A Mormon family killed by a Mexican drug cartel were reportedly shot at point blank.
Three mothers 31-year-old Christina Langford Johnson, 30-year-old Rhonita Miller and 43-year-old Dawna Ray Langford, who belong to the extended LeBaron family, were killed along with six children as they were driving through northern Mexico on November 5.
Eight members of the family, all children, managed to escape.
The killers were believed to be 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.
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.
However, an American federal investigator has cast doubt on that theory.
The investigator, who hasn’t been named, told the New York Post members of the family were taken out of their cars and killed, with some “shot some of the victims at point-blank range”.
Last week, family member Alex LeBaron told The New York Times Ms Johnson had been shot point blank in the chest.
Authorities said Ms Johnson stepped out of her car first to show she wasn’t a threat, raised her arms in the air and was shot.
Julian LeBaron, another member of the family, told Mexican newspaper El Universal the group “had to know that these were women and children”.
Army chief of staff Hector Mendoza told reporters “it was not a targeted attack”.
He added the cartel allowed the surviving eight children to escape.
‘Light wherever she went’
Members of the breakaway Mormon community tucked in the hills of northern Mexico buried the last of their dead on Saturday after the devastating massacre and some headed for safer ground in the US.
Hundreds of friends and family from both sides of the US-Mexico border gathered in rural Colonia LeBaron to honour Ms Langford.
Her baby, Faith, was found unharmed in the bullet-riddled sport utility vehicle.
In a simple wooden church, pews were packed for a service that brought to a close three straight days of funerals. At the centre of the altar, an arrangement of white flowers spelled the word "Mommy."
Grecia Yuvel LeBaron, a friend of Ms Langford’s, said the mum “brought light wherever she went”.
"We grew up together and thought that we would be friends forever,” she said.
With the rites of mourning behind them, many in the community are now at a crossroads, unsure whether they are willing to risk staying in Mexico after the murders shattered their sense of safety.
Adrian LeBaron, the 58-year-old father of Ms Miller who was shot dead along with four of her children, said his son-in-law, Howard Miller, was heading to North Dakota with his surviving children to be with his parents and to work in the States as he had done in the past.
"Of course they're going to go where the parents are," he said.
"Poor Howard, what else can he do?"
But he insisted Mr Miller's ties to Mexico remained strong.
"He is going there to work, don't confuse someone seeking their livelihood with fleeing," Mr LeBaron said.
"His heart, his soul remains in La Mora."
Ms Langford, too, lived in the La Mora village, but she was buried in LeBaron, which acquaintances said was her husband's hometown.
Tucked away in the fertile valleys of the Sierra Madre mountains a few hours drive south from the US border, the communities stem from the late 1800s, when upheaval over polygamy in the Utah-based church led to their founding.
Shrouded in fog on Saturday morning, LeBaron showed its roots, with some ageing buildings appearing to be straight from a Wild West movie set. LeBaron is scattered with signs touting religious life but also advertisements for rodeos featuring alcohol, hinting at traces of secularism.
Agriculture is the heart of the local economy and pecans are among the main crops, with children often helping collect the nuts on their families' property.
Many families send their sons to the United States to work when they get older, though they maintain deep roots in Mexico.
While fears of further violence may send some north, Rosa LeBaron, 65, said she had no doubt the tragedy would bring their community closer.
With The Associated Press and Reuters
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