Updated: Feb 26, 2020
On November 4th, a family was traveling on a mountain road in Northwest Mexico in the state of Sonora. At around 9:40 am, an ambush took place where gunmen fired towards one vehicle and set it on fire, killing a mother and her four children. About an hour later, two more cars were attacked. As a result, three American women and six children were killed in Mexico. They were extended members of the LeBarón family (Allyn, 2019). Eight children survived the ambush, of which Devin Langford, a thirteen-year-old boy, spoke out in an interview on Good Morning America (Allen, 2019). After the shooting stopped, the gunmen got the remaining children on the floor and drove away, that is when Devin then helped get his injured brothers and sisters near bushes and walked 14 miles looking for help (Allen, 2019). This ambush has shaken the Mormon community. The Mexican government and the FBI are currently examining the deaths.
Photo Source: Google Maps
The family was traveling from Bavispe to Galeana, an area that is often disputed by many cartels (Allen, 2019).
Mother: Dawna Langford 43yrs old
Children: Trevor 11yrs old & Rogan 2yrs old
Mother: Rhonita Miller 30yrs old
Children: Howard 12yrs old, Krystal 10yrs old & Titus and Tatiana 8month old twins
Mother: Christina Langford Johnson
Photo Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-50339377
"Mexican authorities suspect that the families were not targeted but mistaken for a rival gang by a drug cartel", however it is noted that the women and children don't seem to fit the profiles of cartel operatives (Allyn, 2019).
Another theory involves the LeBarón family and farm workers called El Barzon. It is believed that arguments over water well drilling for over six decades may have led to a planned attack. (Allyn, 2019). Farmers claimed that the LeBaróns were draining large amounts of water, leaving nearby communities with very little water for farming. Furthermore, Mexico's National Water Commission had claimed that the LeBaróns have "sunk hundreds of illegal wells on their properties. They also have reservoirs allegedly bulldozed to hold water diverted from local rivers."(Kryt, 2019). Both farmers and the LeBarón family acted out violently as farmers stormed one of the LeBaróns ranches and the LeBaróns opened fire on them. In August of 2019, a court ruling was made so that the LeBaróns restore land confiscated from small farmers in Chihuahua. However, the court order was ignored. El Barzon have denied suspicions of the car ambush (Kryt, 2019). It is thought that the car ambush was a planned attack because the massacre occurred in two separate times with different locations. However, over 200 cartridges from assault weapons were found at the site, cartridges that are often favored and used by drug traffickers (Allyn, 2019).
The victims were a part of the LeBarón family, which has a history with northern Mexico. When the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints based in Utah moved away from polygamy (with polygamy being made illegal in the U.S), the LeBarón family split from the Church and moved to northern Mexico (Allyn, 2019). Even though polygamy was also illegal in Mexico, authorities would often turn a blind eye to their marriage practices. The family bought land in the State of Sonora and Chihuahua and set up ranches and grew in numbers and into several branches over time. The group was led by Alma "Dayer" LeBarón during the 1920s. After he passed away, it was led by his son, Joel LeBarón. In 1972, Ervil LeBarón, who was second in command, and Joel's brother, split from the LeBarón Church. He became notorious when he ordered his brother's murder. He had 13 wives and numerous children and passed away in prison in 1981 (Grant, 2019). In 2017, Anna LeBarón, a daughter of Ervil, released "The Polygamist's Daughter" where she told the stories of how she escaped the community and “cult” (Janzen, 2019). Despite this dark history, Mormons of all branches in Mexico have been living peacefully. They are also often identified as "not fully Mexican, but not entirely American" due to their dual citizenship and constant traveling between Mexico and the U.S. (Grant, 2019).
Today the LeBaróns are known to be part of wealthy and local powerful Mormon landowners that have dual citizenship in Mexico and the U.S. The Mormon community has more than 5,000 members; however, the recent killings may impact the community as many may not return to Mexico after the incident (Allyn, 2019).
The tragic story of the car ambush only highlights and adds to the existing narrative in Mexico: a place ridden with drugs and war. According to BBC, "In 2009, the Mormons in the northern states of Mexico were warned in the clearest possible terms that they inhabited "tierra sin ley", a "lawless land." (Grant, 2019). Benjamin LeBarón, a great-grandson of Alma LeBarón, had earlier that year created a group called SOS in Chihuahua to speak out about the organized crime. Benjamin and his brother-in-law, Luis Widmar, were then tortured and killed. Since then, the relatives of Benjamin LeBarón have established a somewhat stable peace with Los Salazar, a smaller group part of the Sinaloa Cartel, led by El Chapo. (Grant, 2019). However, Los Salazar recently have been battling territories with La Linea, a group that's part of the Juarez Cartel. It is believed that the day the LeBarón family were traveling they, unfortunately, fell under the trap of La Linea that was meant for Los Salazar. (Kryt, 2019). Other speculations include that they might have also intentionally attacked the LeBarón family for having a relationship with Los Salazar or for speaking out on crime. (Grant, 2019).
The complexity of the situation leaves more questions than answers, but at the end of the day it is unfortunate that innocent lives were taken of mothers and their children. Funeral services have been held for the family.
Allyn, B. (2019, November 11). FBI Joins Investigation Into Killing Of 9 Members Of Mormon Family In Mexico. Retrieved November 22, 2019, from https://www.npr.org/2019/11/11/778318135/fbi-joins-investigation-into-killing-of-9-members-of-mormon-family-in-mexico.
Allen, K., & Ghebremedhin, S. (2019, November 11). Teen survivor recalls horrifying details of ambush in Mexico that killed 9. Retrieved November 22, 2019, from https://abcnews.go.com/International/teen-survivor-recalls-horrifying-details-ambush-mexico-killed/story?id=66893436.
Grant, W. (2019, November 8). Mexico ambush: How a US Mormon family ended up dead. Retrieved November 22, 2019, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-50339377.
Janzen, R. (2019, November 8). Mormons in Mexico: A brief history of polygamy, cartel violence and faith. Retrieved November 22, 2019, from https://theconversation.com/mormons-in-mexico-a-brief-history-of-polygamy-cartel-violence-and-faith-126493.
Kryt, J. (2019, November 11). A New Twist in the Horrific Massacre of American Moms and Kids in Mexico. Retrieved November 22, 2019, from https://www.thedailybeast.com/a-new-twist-in-the-horrific-massacre-of-american-mormon-moms-and-kids-in-mexico?ref=scroll.