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A previous version of this video misstated the citizenships of the family members and their affiliation with the LDS church.
USA TODAY

Two days after three women and six children from a family with a complex history in Mexico were ambushed and killed by suspected drug cartel gunmen while driving to a wedding, the question remains, why?

Investigators were set to resume their search for answers on Wednesday after the family’s vehicles were sprayed with gunfire on a road near Rancho La Mora in a remote and mountainous area where the Sinaloa cartel has been engaged in a turf war with another gang.

The country’s Security Secretary, Alfonso Durazo, said the ambush could have been a case of mistaken identity, with the gunmen believing the family represented a rival gang. 

The family’s relatives, though, claimed the gunmen carried out their assault even after one woman attempted to show she posted no threat.

It remains unknown whether the anti-crime reputation of the victims’ extended family influenced the attack on Monday morning. The victims — all dual U.S.-Mexican citizens — were related to the LeBaron family, whose members have clashed with drug traffickers over the years. One of them, Benjamin LeBaron, was murdered by the cartels in 2009 after he founded neighborhood patrols against them. 

Mexican authorities arrested a suspect who had kidnapped two victims, but prosecutors said Tuesday it was unclear if he participated in the ambush, which left over 200 shell casings across a scene that stretched for miles.

“It’s devastating,” said relative Leah Staddon. “It’s incomprehensible, the evil. I don’t understand how someone could do that.” 

Eight children survived the attack by hiding or running away, and at least five of them are receiving treatment for their injuries in Arizona. All are in stable condition, officials said. 

Relatives credited Devin Blake Langford, 13, for walking 14 miles to get help after seeing gunmen shoot his mother and two brothers. Devin hid six of his other siblings in the bushes, relative Kendra Lee Miller wrote on Facebook, and covered them with branches before heading toward home. 

He delivered the news to his uncles, who found five of Devin’s siblings in the hiding spot eight hours after the ambush. A 9-year-old girl had left to try to find help while waiting for Devin’s return. Search parties found the girl, Miller said, discovering she got lost and walked 10 miles.

An ambulance and helicopter later transported five of the injured siblings to hospitals. The uninjured children are with their aunts and grandmas, Miller said. 

The victims, who lived in Sonora state, about 70 miles of Douglas, Arizona, belonged to a fundamentalist Mormon ranching community founded by people who separated long ago from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many separatists came to the region and left the church to continue practicing polygamy decades ago. 

The LeBaron colony in the Mexican state of Chihuahua was founded in 1924 by Alma Dayer LeBaron, who brought his wives and children across the border, according to NBC News.

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Sonora is considered a key location by the international drug trade and human trafficking network. It is labeled as a “Level 3: Reconsider Travel” by the U.S. State Department because of the risk of crime.

To show cartel gunmen she wasn’t a threat, Christina Langford Johnson allegedly jumped out of her SUV and waved her hands, relatives and prosecutors said. Officials found her body 15 yards away from her vehicle, and her 7-month-old daughter still in her car seat, uninjured. 

Miller wrote on Facebook that the baby’s car seat “seemed to be put on the floor by her mother to try and protect her. … She gave her life to try and save the rest.”

The governor of Sonora, Claudia Pavlovich Arellano, said the attackers will not go unpunished. 

Contributing: Daniel Gonzalez, The Arizona Republic; Adriana Rodriguez, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/11/06/mexico-family-ambush-gunmen-carry-out-evil-attack/4170787002/

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