A woman and a number of children killed by a Mexican drug cartel were “burned alive”, according to a member of the family.
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 area has been engaged in a turf war involving the Sinaloa drug cartel but relatives believe the deaths were a case of mistaken identity.
The victims, all said to be members of a Mormon family, who lived in La Mora, Sonora, had set out to see relatives in Mexico. It’s not clear how many were travelling but Jhon LeBaron wrote on Facebook that 17 people were travelling in the three cars before they were attacked.
Charred remains found of Rhonita Miller and four children
Julian LeBaron, a cousin of all three mums, told the New York Times, Ms Miller’s car had broken down. Ms Miller, also known as Rhonita LeBaron, was heading for an airport in Phoenix, in the US state of Arizona, to meet her husband.
A relative, who did not want his name used, said in an interview that when they finally made it to the scene where the ambush started — about 18 kilometres from where the two other mums were killed — they found a burnt-out Chevy Tahoe.
Inside, they saw the charred remains of Ms Miller, her 10-year-old daughter Krystal, her son Howard, 12, and eight-month-old twins named Titus and Tiana.
Alex LeBaron, a member of the family, told CNN “women and children were massacred and burned alive” in the attack.
“Mothers were screaming for the fire to stop,” he told CNN.
Tiffany Langford, another member of the family, wrote on Facebook “mostly ashes and only a few charred bones (were) left to identify that all five had been inside” Ms Miller’s car.
Another mum shot ‘point blank’
Prosecutors said Ms Johnson had waved her arms in the air to signal she wasn’t a threat to the cartel but was shot. Mr LeBaron told the Times “they shot her point blank in the chest”.
Ms Johnson’s seven-month-old daughter, Faith Marie Johnson, was discovered uninjured in her car seat.
A short distance away, Ms Langford was found dead in the front seat of another van, along with the bullet-riddled bodies of her sons, Trevor 11, and Rogan, 2.
Trish Cloes, Ms Langford’s aunt, told CBS the deaths are “something that you can’t explain”.
"That there are evil people in this world that could do such a thing like that," Ms Cloes told CBS.
The children who escaped the cartel
Several children managed to escape the cartel and survive.
One was 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.
Another girl, who was initially listed as missing, walked off in another direction, despite her gunshot wounds, to get help.
Prosecutors on Tuesday said a suspect was detained near Agua Prieta, but it was unclear whether the person had taken part in the ambush.
Suspect found with bound kidnap victims
The suspect had assault rifles and a .50-calibre sniper rifle and was holding two bound kidnap victims, authorities said.
All of the victims were apparently related to the extended LeBaron family in Chihuahua, east of La Mora, whose members have run foul of the drug traffickers over the years. Benjamin LeBaron, an anti-crime activist who founded neighbourhood patrols against cartels, was killed in 2009.
A GoFundMe page has been established to help the LeBaron and Langford families.
With Associated Press and Reuters
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