Nine members of a Mormon fundamentalist family were killed in a roadside ambush in Mexico on Monday. At least six of them were children. The group, part of the extended LeBaron family, was traveling in a small convoy of SUV's in broad daylight when their vehicles were fired upon.
The victims were members of a community of about 3,000 Mormon fundamentalists living in Mexico. The LeBarons are part of a group of fundamentalists who split from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and migrated to Mexico in the 19th century when the U.S. government banned polygamy.
While a suspect has been arrested, the motive for the attack is unclear. Mexican Security Minister Alfonso Durazo speculated that the killer had mistaken the family's caravan for a rival drug cartel. But former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda told CNN he believes the group was targeted and that there was long-standing tension between the cartels and the LeBarons who have defied them in the past.
Family members have been outspoken about their belief that the murders were intentional. Alex LeBaron, a high-profile peace activist and deputy in the Chihuahua State legislature told Mexico's W radio, “It couldn’t have been a mistake. This is terrorism, plain and simple.”
The victims were identified as Christina Marie Langford Johnson, 29; Dawna Langford, 43; Trevor Langford, 11; and Rogan Langford, 2-and-a-half. Also killed were Rhonita Miller, 30; Howard Miller, 12; Krystal Miller, 10; and the 8-month-old twins, Titus and Tiana Miller.
The LeBaron family has a violent past. In 1972, Ervil LeBaron, known as the Mormon Manson, allegedly killed his older brother in a battle for control over leadership. In 1977, Ervil was convicted of killing Dr. Rulon Allred, a rival polygamist leader.
In recent years, they have clashed publicly with the cartels. In 2009, 16-year-old Erick LeBaron was kidnapped by traffickers and and held for $1 million ransom. The family chose not to pay and the teenager was returned unharmed. But two months later, after speaking out agains the kidnapping and other narco-related crime, Erick's brother Benjamin LeBaron was shot to death alongside his brother-in-law, Luis Carlos Widmer.
The incident comes as the region struggles with cartel violence. There were 33,000 homicides in Mexico in 2018; that number is expected to grow in 2019.