Flat tyre left family alone and vulnerable during massacre
A mum murdered by Mexican cartels yesterday had just finished changing a spare tyre when her family was ambushed by the gunmen, relatives and police said.
Initial reports from Mexican police and heartbroken relatives said three mums, all with dual US-Mexican citizenship and living in a Mormon community just south of the border, had been travelling in the north of Mexico in a convoy when they were targeted.
Police said the mums - Christina Langford Johnson, Dawna Ray Langford and Rhonita LeBaron - had been driving the three SUVs on a remote and unpaved mountain road at around 1pm on Monday local time when they were attacked.
The cars, filled with children, had been travelling from the Mormon community of La Mora in the Mexican state of Sonora down to Pancho Villa in Chihuahua.
The three families had left the community together but a flat tyre delayed one of the families.
The car that fell behind was the first to be found by police shot up and burnt out with the bodies of one woman - identified as Rhonita LeBarón - with her twin babies and two other small children dead inside.
A relative of Ms LeBaron, who did not want his name used for fear of retaliation, said in an interview that when they finally made it to the scene where the ambush started they found a burnt-out Chevy Tahoe.
Inside, they saw the charred remains of Rhonita Miller, 30, her 10-year-old daughter, a son, 12, and her eight-month-old twins. They were "burnt to a crisp," the relative said.
The gunmen had riddled the vehicle with dozens of bullets and apparently hit the gas tank, causing it to explode.
"When we were there, the cartels from Sonora, there were probably 50 or 60 of them, armed to the teeth, about a mile on this side," said the relative.
The bloodshed took place in a remote, mountainous area in northern Mexico where the Sinaloa cartel has been engaged in a turf war.
Less than 20km down the road, police found the other two mums and some of their dead children.
Christina Langford Johnson was found a few metres from her van after trying to leave her driver's seat and wave her arms to show she wasn't a threat.
She had been shot to death but her seven-month-old daughter, Faith Marie Johnson, was discovered uninjured in her car seat.
Kendra Miller, a relative, wrote that the baby's car seat "seemed to be put on the floor by her mother to try and protect her. ... She gave her life to try and save the rest".
A short distance away, Dawna Ray Langford, 43, lay dead in the front seat of another Suburban, along with the bullet-riddled bodies of her sons, ages 11 and two.
One relative, Kendra Miller, said in a Facebook post that the first news of the massacre arrived in La Mora when a 13-year-old survivor got there hours later.
"After witnessing his mother and brothers being shot dead, Dawna's son Devin hid his six other siblings in the bushes and covered them with branches to keep them safe while he went for help," she wrote. "When he took too long to return, his nine-year-old sister left the remaining five to try again."
Of the children who escaped, one had been 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 15km 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. A group of male relatives set out to try to rescue the youngsters but turned back when they heard gunfire ahead.
Aaron Staddon, a relative living in Arizona, said the five wounded children were recovering at a hospital in Tucson, Arizona, and that the one who was shot in the jaw would require extensive plastic surgery.
Mexican Security Secretary Alfonso Durazo said the gunmen may have mistaken the group's large SUVs for those of rival gangs.
While drug-related violence has been raging for years in Mexico, the attack underscored the way cartel gunmen have become increasingly unconcerned about killing children as collateral damage.
Around the ambush scene, which stretched for kilometres, investigators found over 200 shell casings, mostly from assault rifles.
"Lately it's getting worse. This is a whole new level," said Taylor Langford, a relative of the dead who splits his time between the Mexican community and his home in the Salt Lake City suburb of Herriman, Utah.
In a tweet, President Donald Trump offered to help Mexico "wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth".
This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth. We merely await a call from your great new president!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 5, 2019
But Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador rejected that approach, saying his predecessors waged war, "and it didn't work".
"The worst thing you can have is war," he said. "That is not an option."
López Obrador has turned away from the militarised anti-narcotics tactics of his predecessors which failed to stop organised crime and led to widespread human rights abuses.
The President, widely known as Amlo, vowed to "pacify" the country by waging war on the social roots of crime, but his strategy has so far failed to rein in the violence, and in the first nine months of this year, Mexico suffered an average of close to 100 murders a day.