Mexican cartel victims

UPDATE: Family killed in Mexico were of a faith-based group targeted for years for wealth, anti-violence views [Reports]

The victims of Monday’s tragic mass shooting in Mexico were apparently from a faith-based group of a family who settled in the country decades ago. The same group had also been targeted for years due to their vocal opposition to violence and their reported wealth.

According to Reuters, the victims were a part of the LeBaron family, a group that broke away from the Mormon community during the 1920s and moved to the state of Chihuahua, in Northern Mexico. They eventually settled in the plains and hills of the area, which became known as Colonia LeBaron or LeBaron, named after the faith group’s founder, Alma Dayer LeBaron.

As CrimeOnline previously reported, the unknown suspects ambushed a group of women and children on Monday and opened fire close to Rancho La Mora, which lies on the border of Sonora and Chihuahua. When bullets hit the SUV and convoy the group had been traveling in, the vehicles burst into flames.

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A total of nine victims died, including three mothers and six children.

History of Violence

The Seattle Times reports that in 2009, the LeBaron community had been intertwined in a “dust devil of violence” after Mexico’s drug cartels targeted them. The outlet reports that one of the reasons the cartels zeroed in on the community had to do with the family’s supposed wealth.

During the same year, a leader of the colony and a vocal anti-violence activist, Benjamin LeBaron, 31, was taken from his home at gunpoint after he refused to pay $1 million for his teen brother, 17-year-old Erick LeBaron, who had been kidnapped and held at ransom.

The armed men allegedly threatened to rape Benjamin LeBaron’s wife in front of their children unless someone showed them where LeBaron kept his weapons arsenal.

“But he didn’t have any, because I promise you, if he did, he would have used them to protect his family,” Julian LeBaron said.

Within an hour, the kidnappers beat Benjamin LeBaron and shot him dead. LeBaron’s brother-in-law, Luis Widmar, was also taken at gunpoint after trying to help Benjamin. He, too, was shot and killed.

Afterward, the killers freed Erick LeBaron, possibly due to the large public outcry. Yet, they posted an ominous sign directed LeBaron family following Benjamin’s death, blaming them for the capture of 25 of the Sinaloa drug cartel members.

“This is for the leaders of LeBaron who didn’t believe and who still don’t believe.”

Authorities later said Jose Rodolfo Escajeda, “a lieutenant” in the of the Juarez cartel, was presumably responsible for Benjamin LeBaron and Luis Widmar’s deaths.

A woman holds a picture of Mormon anti-crime activist Benjamin LeBaron, left, and his neighbor Luis Widmar, who were killed Tuesday, during funeral services in Galeana, Mexico, Thursday, July 9, 2009. Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office announced Thursday that it is launching a federal investigation into the killing of LeBaron calling it a high-impact crime that appears related to the arrest of a gang of gunmen. (AP Photo)

A year later, in 2010, two people of the Mormon community in Chihuahua, including a member from the LeBaron family, died during an apparent revenge attack after authorities tracked down Mexican gang members.

Latest Victims

The victims of the latest attack were dual Mexican and U.S. citizens. They were trying to travel back to the U.S. when the attack happened. They’ve been identified as mother Rhonita Maria LeBaron (pictured with her family) and her children, which included infant twins, an 8-year-old, and a 10-year-old.

Around eight miles away, more victims were shot. Some died while some survived. The deceased victims include:

  • Dawna Ray Langford, 43
  • Christina Marie Langford, 31
  • Trevor Langford, 11
  • Noah Langford, 3

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that one child was shot down while trying to run away. An infant, identified as 7-month-old Faith Marie Johnson, survived the incident, along with 8-month-old Brixon Oliver Langford, who was shot in the chest.

Donna Langford (right) [Facebook]
Other survivors include 14-year-old Kylie Evelyn Langford, who was shot in the foot, and 13-year-old Devin Blake Langford, who reportedly walked around 14 miles to get help.

Mckenzie Rayne Langford, 9, also survived the incident after a bullet grazed his arm. Cody Greyson Langford, 8, was reportedly shot in the jaw and leg. He’s in critical condition, according to family members.

Additional survivors include Xander Boe Langford, 4, who was shot in the back, and Jake Ryder Langford, 6, who was uninjured.

“Six little kids were killed and seven made it out alive,” family member Julian LeBaron said in a phone interview with The New York Times.

LeBaron added that some of the victims had been burned alive. He fears the death toll could grow higher, adding that the family previously received indirect threats.

“We don’t know why, though they had received indirect threats. We don’t know who did it.”

Family members reportedly said that cartel members kidnapped some of the surviving church members. One of the kidnapped victims’ family members received a call and heard a woman screaming while men spoke over her loudly.

The gunmen may have been members of a Chihuahua cartel who invaded another cartel’s territory.

Sen. Mitt Romney offered his sympathy and condolences when he heard about the tragedy.

“Ann and I are heartbroken for the victims of the horrific attacks in Mexico,” Romney wrote. “Our prayers are with their families who have suffered such an unspeakable tragedy. The U.S. must work with Mexican officials to hold accountable those responsible for this senseless violence.”

President Trump took to Twitter and wrote that it’s time to “wage war” on the drug cartels.

“This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth. We merely await a call from your great new president! The cartels have become so large and powerful that you sometimes need an army to defeat an army!”

Claudia Pavlovich Arellano, the governor of the state of Sonora, vowed to help catch the “monsters” responsible for the attack.

It’s unclear whether the killings were intentional or a case of mistaken identity.

The family members were Mormons, but part of a polygamous spin-off of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The story is developing. Check back for further updates.

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[Feature Photo: Rhonita Maria LeBaron and family/Facebook]