In Mexico, a family member of the nine women and children shot to death in a violent ambush Monday says they won’t be run off by the drug cartels that have made the area around their homes so dangerous and violent.
The three mothers and their 12 children who live in Mexico were traveling in three vehicles when they were ambushed by an unknown number of assailants.
"They were heading towards Phoenix, towards Tucson," said Daniel LeBaron.
LeBaron, who also lives in Mexico, is the cousin Rhonita Maria Miller, one of the women killed in the ambush, along with four of her children. He says they were going shopping and to the airport.
"Just a routine trip out of town to the U.S., and unfortunately this tragic event occurred," LeBaron said.
Authorities recovered some 200 spent bullet casings at several scenes, near the town of Bavispe, according to Sonoran authorities. They also found the burnt-out frame of a Chevy Tahoe with five bodies inside. The other two vehicles were roughly 10 miles away. All told, three adults and six children were killed, with another four children injured.
LeBaron says some family of the victims believe the ambush might have started as a case of mistaken identity. But, he says, the attackers didn’t back off, even after they realized there were only women and children in the cars.
“I think it’s not accurate to say they were caught in the crossfire. Because everything indicates it was done by just one cartel that was in the area," said LeBaron.
The tight-knit community here in the Sonora-Chihuahua border region has dealt with drug cartel violence for years.
LeBaron says it’s been escalating, putting his family members at what he called "ground zero" of that dispute.
His and other binational Mormon families have lived here for decades, and they don’t plan on leaving. The Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints does not recognize these groups as a part of their church.
They pride themselves on being bilingual citizens of both Mexico and the United States. He says they see the beauty in both countries.
"We’ve been here for five generations. Most of us have blood from both places. We’re going to fight this. We’re going to stand up to whatever we have to stand up to," LeBaron said.
He says it’s too easy for Americans to just blame Mexico for drug violence
"The U.S. is the biggest consumer of everything they’re fighting for down here. I mean 90% of the weapons that are used come from the U.S.," he said. "I’m not blaming one place or another. It’s really easy to point the finger south and say cartels are screwing everything up and the government is corrupt. Well, maybe the U.S. needs to start doing its part, too.”
U.S. Ambassador Christopher Landau was in Hermosillo, the Sonoran capital on Tuesday addressing the Arizona-Mexico Commission meeting shortly after news of the shooting broke.
The binational lives of the massacre’s victims underscore the challenge that both countries face — combating organized crime, something Landau argues can’t be done by either country on its own. Nor does each side blaming the other for the security situation help, he says.
Landau says it’s very important for the two countries to move forward together against criminal groups, which he describes as very strong.
"It is in the common interest of our countries to defeat organized crime," Ambassador Landau said in Spanish. "There’s no alternative. We have to win, and we will.
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