Relatives of Mormon women and children murdered in a gruesome ambush in northern Mexico packed their bags and headed to the United States on Sunday (November 10), fleeing a drug war that left 29,000 dead last year alone and has sent millions of Mexicans and Central Americans fleeing northward.
The northern Mormon communities of La Mora and Colonia LeBaron have generally been spared much of the violence that has killed more than 250,000 Mexicans since 2007, with tens of thousands more missing.
But on Monday (November 4), that all changed when hitmen opened fire on the three mothers and 14 children traveling from a village in Sonora to meet with relatives in neighboring Chihuahua state and Phoenix, Arizona.
Long united by marriages, the two Mormon communities were pushed closer together as members faced the choice of protecting families, or fleeing homes and farms built over three generations.
Both La Mora and Colonia LeBaron were formed last century by “outcast” Mormons whose polygamist beliefs were rejected by the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and sought to escape a clampdown on polygamy in the United States. A shrinking number still practice polygamy, but families are large.
Some dual-nationality families headed for the safety of the United States after the last of their dead were buried. For some, like Ryan Langford, the decision was clear.
“We’ve all ran to the border for a safe haven, 18 vehicles so far, and over a 100 men, women and children, took everything we could fit in our vehicles just so we could get across the border because we definitely don’t feel safe there anymore. And no matter how much we love it and how much we’ll always remember it, no one needs to live in a place where they don’t feel safe, they’re families don’t feel safe,” he said.
While the Mexican government has suggested that drug gangs may have mistaken the SUVs for those of rivals, relatives of the victims rejected the mistaken identity theory, arguing that shell casings and personal belongings found near the torched car suggest the attackers came close and made sure everybody was dead before igniting the vehicle. The families’ account of the attacks and subsequent efforts to recover the surviving children include reports of shooting from the hillsides that continued well after dusk.
“We still haven’t determined if it’s a turf war or a political war, either one, we really don’t know, we’ve through so much drama and been through so much, we haven’t worried about that. It’s more about getting our community and our family out,” Langford said.
The Sinaloa and Juarez Cartels have for years been at odds over lucrative routes in the border region used to move cocaine, heroin and other narcotics into the United States.
(Production: Arlene Eiras)