Three women and six children from a long-standing Mormon community in Sonora, Mexico, were killed Monday in an attack by suspected cartel members. Six other children escaped. Four sustained injuries during the attack, and one still in critical condition as of midday Tuesday, said Daniel LeBaron, a family member of several of the victims. The children were transported to a hospital in Phoenix late Monday night, he said.
Like most members of the Mormon community in Mexico, most of the victims were dual U.S. and Mexican citizens, LeBaron said. The community has close ties on both sides of the border.
The group was making a routine drive from their ranch in the Sonoran mountain highlands to Tucson on Monday for shopping when their vehicles were attacked, LeBaron said. They left their ranch around 8:30 a.m. and were attacked on the road about an hour later.
He said the family believes it may have been a case of mistaken identity that first led cartel members to attack the family's three vehicles on the road, but added that the attack continued even after the identity of the passengers became clear.
“I think it’s not accurate to say they were caught in the cross-fire. Everything indicates it was done by just one cartel that was in the area," he said. "And there's evidence that they didn't back-off knowing that there were children and women," he said.
LeBaron later added that the family believes the first vehicle was burned on purpose because when family members arrived at the scene they "found items that had been removed from the inside."
“We are coming together as a community to deal with it. We’ve been here for five generations. Most of us have blood from both places. And we’re no we’re going anywhere," LeBaron said. "We're going to fight this. We're going to stand up to whatever we have to stand up to."
He said cartel violence is affecting many innocent people in Mexico, and that both the U.S. and Mexican governments need to address what he called “fundamentally flawed policies” feeding the violence.
“We're joined by a hip on this. This is a problem for both countries," he said. "Maybe now with the face of Americans being murdered it brings it closer to home that this is a serious problem.”
LeBaron added that events like this often cause "hysteria" and fear among Americans. But he called Mexico a "beautiful country" that isn't solely to blame.
"I don't really have all the answers," he said. "I'm just saying it's a huge problem we have as countries, as communities. Maybe the U.S. needs to do its part, too."
He said the family is planning to hold a funeral for the nine victims on Wednesday.