10 details you may have missed about the massacre in Mexico

Bullet-riddled vehicles that members of the extended LeBaron family were traveling in sit parked on a dirt road near Bavispe, at the Sonora-Chihuahua state border, Mexico, on Wednesday. Three women and six of their children, related to the extended LeBaron family, were gunned down in an attack while traveling here Monday.
Bullet-riddled vehicles that members of the extended LeBaron family were traveling in sit parked on a dirt road near Bavispe, at the Sonora-Chihuahua state border, Mexico, on Wednesday. Three women and six of their children, related to the extended LeBaron family, were gunned down in an attack while traveling here Monday.

Credit: Christian Chavez

Credit: Christian Chavez

With details still emerging from Monday's tragedy, here is what we know so far about the ambush attack that left nine women and children dead at the hands of drug cartel gunmen in northern Mexico.

How the family arrived in Mexico 

The massacre victims lived in a remote farming community where residents call themselves Mormon — descendants of former members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who fled the U.S. to escape the church's 19th-century polygamy ban.

»RELATED: US victims in Mexico attack from Mormon offshoot community

Many of the families living there trace their origins to the community of La Mora to the 1950s — and some have much deeper roots.

A La Mora resident who spoke on condition of anonymity said his great-grandfather settled there in the late 1890s or early 1900s after leaving the U.S. and was later run back across the border by Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. The resident's grandfather moved back to La Mora with others in the 1950s.

Victims lived near US border 

Most of the victims lived about 70 miles south of Douglas, Arizona, in the hamlet La Mora, founded decades ago by an offshoot of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many La Mora residents call themselves Mormons but are not affiliated with the church.

At least nine members of a Mormon family that has in the past spoken up against Mexican drug cartels were killed Monday, when their vehicles were ambushed by gunmen in a violent region of northern Mexico.
At least nine members of a Mormon family that has in the past spoken up against Mexican drug cartels were killed Monday, when their vehicles were ambushed by gunmen in a violent region of northern Mexico.

Credit: THE NEW YORK TIMES

Credit: THE NEW YORK TIMES

Many are related to the extended Colonia LeBaron family in Chihuahua, whose members have run afoul of the drug traffickers over the years. Benjamin LeBaron, an anti-crime activist who founded neighborhood patrols against cartels, was killed in 2009. Gunmen tortured him in front of his family, then killed him and his brother-in-law.

How that fateful day began 

The morning began with a three-car caravan journeying along a dirt road that family members in the Mormon communities had traversed for decades. Three mothers drove, with a total of 14 children along for the trip. One of the victims, Rhonita LeBarón, was headed to Phoenix to pick up her husband, who works in North Dakota and was returning to celebrate the couple’s anniversary. Her car broke down, Julian LeBarón said, and the gunmen “opened fire on Rhonita and torched her car.”

No police forces were in the area 

When drug cartel gunmen opened fire on the caravan in northern Mexico, the Mexican Army, the National Guard and Sonora state police were not there to protect them. It took them about eight hours to arrive. Army chief of staff Gen. Homero Mendoza said Wednesday that Monday's ambush — which killed three American mothers and six of their children — started at 9:40 a.m., but the nearest army units were in the border city of Agua Prieta, about 100 miles and 3½ hours away.

Mexican national guardsmen patrol near Bavispe, at the Sonora-Chihuahua border, Mexico, on Wednesday. When drug cartel gunmen opened fire on American women and children in northern Mexico on Monday, the Mexican Army, the National Guard and Sonora state police were not there to protect them. It took them about eight hours to arrive.
Mexican national guardsmen patrol near Bavispe, at the Sonora-Chihuahua border, Mexico, on Wednesday. When drug cartel gunmen opened fire on American women and children in northern Mexico on Monday, the Mexican Army, the National Guard and Sonora state police were not there to protect them. It took them about eight hours to arrive.

Credit: Christian Chavez

Credit: Christian Chavez

Soldiers didn't start out for the scene until 2:30 p.m. and didn't arrive until 6:15 p.m. — even while five surviving children lay hiding in the mountains with bullet wounds.

Killers were on enemy turf 

The killers were believed to be from La Linea, whose gunmen had entered Sinaloa cartel territory the previous day and had set up an armed outpost on a hilltop near La Mora and an ambush farther up the road. The Juarez cartel apparently wanted to prevent Sinaloa gunmen from entering their territory in Chihuahua state. It was this invasion force that the American mothers drove into.

Assault rifles were used

Around the ambush scene, which stretched for miles, investigators found more than 200 shell casings, mostly from assault rifles.

Mother's actions likely saved daughter 

One woman was killed after she apparently jumped out of her vehicle and waved her hands to show she wasn't a threat, according to family members and prosecutors. Christina Langford Johnson was found dead 15 yards from her Suburban van. She was shot in the chest at point-blank range, family members say.

A bullet-riddled vehicle that members of the LeBaron family were traveling in sits parked on a dirt road near Bavispe, at the Sonora-Chihuahua border, Mexico, on Wednesday. Three women and six of their children, related to the extended LeBaron family, were gunned down in an attack while traveling along Mexico's Chihuahua and Sonora state border on Monday.
A bullet-riddled vehicle that members of the LeBaron family were traveling in sits parked on a dirt road near Bavispe, at the Sonora-Chihuahua border, Mexico, on Wednesday. Three women and six of their children, related to the extended LeBaron family, were gunned down in an attack while traveling along Mexico's Chihuahua and Sonora state border on Monday.

Credit: Christian Chavez

Credit: Christian Chavez

Her 7-month-old daughter, Faith Marie Johnson, was discovered uninjured in her car seat. 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."

Boy, 13, walked 14 miles for help 

Kendra Lee Miller, a relative who was raised in the Mormon enclave in the Mexican state of Sonora and now lives in the United States, described a harrowing scene, based on firsthand reports from the survivors.

She said Devin Langford, 13, saw his mother, Dawna, and his brothers Trevor, 11, and Rogan, 2, shot dead. Video provided by the family showed two white SUVs riddled with bullet holes. There were about a dozen in the front windshield of Dawna Langford’s vehicle, and the interior was covered in blood and strewn with foam puzzle pieces used by the children.

»RELATED: Children who survived Mexico ambush saved by courage

Devin managed to survive the massacre with six other siblings, who took refuge in nearby bushes. Devin “covered them with branches to keep them safe while he went for help,” Miller wrote on Facebook.

From the hiding place, the boy trekked about 14 miles across country to the outpost of La Mora, Sonora, where the families lived, to get help. He arrived shortly before sunset, providing the first reports about survivors and how the deadly attack had unfolded.

Child survivors severely wounded 

Eight children survived the attack, although six of them were injured, one of them critically, according to David Langford, a relative of the victims. Of the children who escaped, one had been shot in the face, another in the foot. One girl suffered gunshot wounds to her back and foot. Cowering in the brush, one boy hid the other children and then walked back to La Mora to get help.

Children of the extended LeBaron family, who were injured in an ambush, are taken aboard a Mexican Airforce helicopter to be flown to the Mexico-U.S. border.
Children of the extended LeBaron family, who were injured in an ambush, are taken aboard a Mexican Airforce helicopter to be flown to the Mexico-U.S. border.

Credit: The Associated Press

Credit: The Associated Press

Another girl, who was initially listed as missing, walked off in another direction, despite her gunshot wounds, to get help. Five of the wounded children were recovering at a hospital in Tucson, Arizona, and officials say the one who was shot in the jaw would require extensive plastic surgery.

Only 1 suspect is in custody 

A suspect was detained near Agua Prieta, but it was unclear whether the person had taken part in the ambush.

»RELATED: Suspect arrested after 9 members of LeBaron family killed in Mexico

The suspect had assault rifles and a .50-caliber sniper rifle and was holding two bound kidnap victims, authorities said.

— Information from The New York Times was used to supplement this report.

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