The children of a Mormon family who survived an attack from Mexican drug cartel managed to escape with their lives thanks to the help of a brave teenage son.
Three mothers Christina Langford Johnson, 31, Rhonita Miller, 30, and Dawna Ray Langford, 43, were killed along with six children as they were driving through northern Mexico on Monday.
The killers were believed to from La Linea, who 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.
It is believed they were part of a Mexican drug cartel that apparently wanted to send a message that it controlled the road into Chihuahua state.
Mexican officials said the attackers may have mistaken the group’s large SUVs for those of a rival gang, and the three women and six children were slaughtered when the gunmen opened fire on three cars on the dirt road.
The attack left one vehicle a burned-out, bullet-riddled hulk.
Thirteen-year-old Devin Blake Langford, one of the few uninjured young people, quickly took charge to help save children and infants who survived the ambush.
He walked about 20 kilometres to get help while hiding the other survivors, moments after witnessing his brothers Trevor 11, and Rogan, 2, die alongside his mum.
“After witnessing his mother and brothers being shot dead, Devin hid his six other siblings in the bushes and covered them with branches to keep them safe while he went for help,” relative Kendra Miller said.
“When he took too long to return, his nine-year-old sister left the remaining five to try again.”
That girl, Mckenzie Rayne Langford, walked for hours in the dark before she was found several hours after the other children were rescued.
They have been named as Kylie, 14, Cody, 8, Jake, 6, Xander, 4, and Brixon, who is nine-months-old.
Altogether, the youngsters were on their own from about 11am until about 7.30pm (local time), when they were rescued.
Relatives from La Mora tried to reach them before that but were turned back by gunfire from the cartel gunmen.
In recordings of calls between the rescuers, they can be heard debating whether to risk more lives or wait an hour or two for Mexican army troops to arrive. It was an agonising decision.
What they saw when they found the children was terrifying.
Cody Greyson Langford, 8, had been shot in the jaw and bled profusely. Another girl had been shot in the foot and the back.
Kendra told NBC the sight of those who didn’t survive was “awful”.
“Seeing the babies’ little skulls just sitting there on the floor of the car burnt and broken,” she said.
Austin Cloes, a relative of the victims, said from his home in Salt Lake City that they loved their children and enjoyed their quiet lives based around a successful pecan farming operation.
“These sorts of people shouldn’t just be buried without their names being put out there. These are great people,” Ms Cloes said.
The victims lived in La Mora, in the US state of Arizona, 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.
All of the victims were apparently related to the extended LeBaron family in Chihuahua, whose members have run into difficulty with drug traffickers over the years.
Benjamin LeBaron, an anti-crime activist who founded neighbourhood patrols against cartels, was killed in 2009.
The group had set out to visit relatives in Chihuahua. Ms Miller, who died in the attack, was headed to the airport in Phoenix to meet her husband.
While a drug-related violence has been raging for years in Mexico, the attack underscored the cartels’ increasing indifference to the killing of children as collateral damage.
In August in Chihuahua, cartel gunmen fired 123 bullets at a man and also killed three girls, ages 4, 13 and 14.
In June, a young boy was killed along with his father in Sonora. In July, a 10-year-old was killed during a robbery in Puebla state.
Officials said Tuesday that a suspect was arrested in the border city of Agua Prieta with assault rifles, but they later said the suspect apparently had not been involved in the ambush.
With The Associated Press
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