Dozens of people traveled to a secluded mountainous area of Sonora in northern Mexico to attend funerals for nine Americans shot dead by cartel gunmen on Nov. 4.
Escorted by Mexicos National Guard, the train of SUVs lit the meandering road on the night of Nov. 6, heading for the municipality of Bavispe, where the services will be held the next day for some of the three women and six children slain.
“We came prepared to sleep on the floor, in tents. Whatever is needed to support the families who died in this terrorist act,” said Alex LeBaron, a former Congressman and cousin of one of the women, Rhonita Miller.
The remains of Miller and her children, whose bodies were reduced to ash and bones when the car they were in was shot at and went up in flames, are due to be buried in another village called Colonia LeBaron on Nov. 8.
Alex LeBaron, who was with the convoy, told Mexican radio that mourners had come from the United States and across Mexico, bringing food and mattresses for the journey.
The LeBaron family, which came to Mexico in the early 20th century, now claims to be more than 5,000-strong.
Authorities and relatives say the killings appeared to be the work of the Juarez and the Sinaloa Cartels, who fight for control of lucrative drug routes that run through the sparsely populated areas into the United States.
The victims came from prominent local families, including the LeBarons, Millers, and Langfords.
Nestled in the fertile valleys of the Sierra Madre mountains just a few hours drive south from the U.S. border, the oldest communities formed in the late 1800s to continue polygamy in their Mormon church as the practice was outlawed in the United States.
The colony has had run-ins with the cartels for years, facing murder, kidnappings, and other crimes.
The situation got so serious that the Mormons eventually broke Mexican laws and armed themselves for defense, Vice reported in 2012.
Its not clear why the cartels ambushed the caravan of three vehicles carrying women and children on Monday. A video posted on social media showed the charred and smoking remains of a vehicle riddled with bullet holes that was apparently carrying the victims when the attack happened.
Crossfire or Assassination?
Mexican Army Gen. Homero Mendoza said at a Nov. 6 press conference that a criminal group called “La Linea” is believed to be responsible for the attack as it sent a group of gunmen to the area to prevent incursion from a rival “Los Salazar” crime group aligned with the Sinaloa cartel.
However, David Langford, whose wife, Dawna Ray Langford, died in the ambush, said he believed the killers went after the families intentionally.
“This was a targeted attack and the cartel knew there were women and children in those vehicles,” he told ABC News on Nov. 6. “The cartel waged violence against our community using our families as pawns.”
Five of Langfords seven children survived the attack and were transferred to a hospital in Tuscon, Arizona, for treatment, he said. Two were in critical condition on Nov. 6 night.
Julian LeBaron, a relative who lives in Chihuahua state, also said he believed the attack was intentional.
“There was no crossfire,” he said. “They intentionally aimed and fired on women and children.”