Nine members of US family killed by suspected cartel gunmen in Mexico

MEXICO CITY – Nine members of an American family – three mothers and their young children – were killed in a shooting attack relatives suspect might have been a case of mistaken identity by Mexican drug cartel gunmen. 

The victims were members of La Mora, a decades-old settlement in Sonora state founded as part of an offshoot of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about 70 miles south of Douglas, Arizona.

The mothers were driving from Bavispe to a wedding in LaBaron, another Mormon community in the state of Chihuahua, when their three vehicles loaded with children were hit by gunfire, which caused one of the vehicles to explode in flames.

The attack happened near Rancho La Mora on the border between Sonora and Chihuahua in a remote, mountainous area where the Sinaloa cartel has been engaged in a turf war with another gang. The ambush scene stretched for miles.

 Leah Staddon, who lives in Arizona, said her nephew’s wife and her four children died in the blaze. 


Staddon originally thought 10 relatives had been killed. Mexican authorities said Tuesday that nine people died and four children were injured in the attack, but Mexico’s Public Safety Secretary said six children were injured and another one might be missing. 

Eight children were found alive after escaping from the vehicles and hiding in the brush; several had bullet wounds or other injuries.

Staddon said her brother discovered the smoldering, bullet-ridden vehicle.

“It’s devastating,” she said. “It’s incomprehensible, the evil. I don’t understand how someone could do that.” 

Dawna Langford and her family.

Another relative, Julián LeBaron, identified one of the victims on his Facebook page as Rhonita María LeBaron. 

Staddon gave her name as Rhonita Miller, 33. She said Miller’s four children who died inside the car were ages 8, 10 and 4-month-old twins, a boy and a girl.

Staddon said she learned later Monday that her sister-in law and her cousin had been killed. 

She was trying to verify from relatives in Mexico exactly how many people died. She said they told her that after gunmen killed her sister-in-law and two children, they opened the door and saw more children and let them go.

Staddon said her sister-in-law’s oldest son, a young teenager, hid the smaller children behind a tree, then walked back to the family’s ranch for help.

Rhonita Miller and her family

She identified her sister-in-law as Dawna Langford, who was traveling in a second vehicle with nine children.

Staddon identified her cousin as Christina Johnson. Johnson was traveling in a third vehicle with her baby, Staddon said. Johnson’s baby was found alive inside the vehicle, Staddon said.

Christina Johnson with her baby.

Staddon said the travelers belonged to a fundamentalist Mormon ranching community that has lived in Bavispe for more than 40 years.

The Mormon church posted a statement on its website: “We are heartbroken to hear of the tragedy that has touched these families in Mexico. Though it is our understanding that they are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, our love, prayers and sympathies are with them as they mourn and remember their loved ones.”

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