Sat | Aug 8, 2020

Nine US citizens killed in drug cartel ambush

Published:Wednesday | November 6, 2019 | 12:00 AM


Drug cartel gunmen ambushed three SUVs along a dirt road, slaughtering at least six children and three women – all of them US citizens living in northern Mexico – in a grisly attack that left one vehicle a burnt-out, bullet-riddled hulk, authorities said Tuesday.

The dead included eight-month-old twins. Eight children were found alive after escaping from the vehicles and hiding in the brush, but at least five had bullet wounds or other injuries and were taken to Phoenix for treatment.

The gunmen apparently killed one woman, Christina Langford Johnson, after she jumped out of her vehicle and waved her hands to show she wasn’t a threat, according to an account published by family members and corroborated by prosecutors and a relative in a telephone interview.

Around the running ambush scene, which stretched for miles, investigators found over 200 spent shell casings, mostly from assault rifles.

Mexican Security Secretary Alfonso Durazo said the attackers may have mistaken the group’s large SUVs for those of rival gangs. The attack took place in a remote, mountainous area where the Sinaloa cartel has been engaged in a turf war with another gang.

All of the victims were believed to be members of the extended LeBaron family, who live in a ­decades-old settlement founded by an offshoot of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and have run afoul of the drug ­traffickers over the years. A LeBaron was killed a decade ago after ­denouncing the cartels.

“There’s apparently a war right now,” a relative, who did not want his name used for fear of reprisals, said wearily. “It’s been going on for too long.”

In a tweet, President Donald Trump immediately offered to help Mexico “wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth.” But Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador rejected that approach, saying his predecessors waged war, “and it didn’t work”.

The victims lived in the hamlet of La Mora in Sonora state, about 70 miles (110 kilometres) south of Douglas, Arizona. A number of extended families from LDS breakaway groups live in farming communities clustered around the Chihuahua-Sonora state border.

Many members were born in Mexico and thus have dual citizenship. While some of the splinter groups were once polygamous, many no longer are.

State prosecutors said Johnson was found 15 yards (metres) away from her Suburban van, shot to death. Her seven-month-old daughter, Faith Marie Johnson, was discovered uninjured in her car seat in the SUV.

Kendra Miller, a relative, wrote 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.”