Mexican officials say they have made an arrest in response to the horrific massacre of nine American citizens — three women and six of their young children — in the Mexican state of Sonora.
“The suspect was holding two bound-and-gagged hostages in the hills of Agua Prieta in Sonora state, the ministerial Agency for Criminal Investigations (AMIC) said,” CNN reports. “The suspect had several rifles and a large amount of ammunition, including a number of large-caliber weapons, the agency said in a statement posted to its official Facebook page.”
Chihuahua Attorney General Cesar Peniche Espejel confirmed the arrest in a radio interview on Tuesday. “We are waiting for some more intelligence in order to issue an official statement,” he said, declining to confirm more details about the suspect’s potential role in the ambush of the family.
While Peniche Espejel pointed to the Los Jaguares cartel, which CNN describes as a newly formed offshoot of the Sinaloa cartel, as potentially being behind the attack, U.S. officials have indicated that rival cartel La Línea is under scrutiny.
While some officials have said that the attack may have been a result of mistaken identity, former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda told CNN that the LeBarón family’s history of conflict with the cartels suggests that they may have been targeted.
“They had stood up to the drug cartels, and they did have certain frictions either with the cartels or with neighboring communities over water rights,” said Castañeda.
“Their long-standing tensions, and apparently the woman who was driving in the first car that was attacked was an activist,” he explained. “She was someone who was very active in her community, defending her family, her fellow members of the community against cartels, on the issue of water rights.”
After having received protection from federal police since 2011, said Castañeda, the protection was reduced earlier this year.
As reported by The Salt Lake Tribune Monday, a total of nine members of the LeBarón and Langford families — U.S. citizens who are a part of the Sonora-based La Mora community — were killed in the cartel ambush. Gunmen opened fire on vehicles carrying several family members and subsequently lit the vehicles on fire, with some of the victims still inside.
“Maria Rhonita Miller and four of her children died on a road in northern Mexico, according to [Lafe Langford Jr.] and social media posts,” the Tribune reported. “The bodies of Dawna Ray Langford, 43, and Christina Marie Langford, 31, were found later Monday, Lafe Langford Jr. said. The bodies of two of Dawna Ray Langford’s children, Trevor, 11, and Rogan, 3, also were recovered Monday.” Among the children murdered were Rhonita Miller’s twin 6-month-old babies and two children aged 10 and 12.
“On the morning of November 4th, 2019, three mothers in three vehicles, with fourteen children between them, set out from LaMora, a small family community in the mountains of northeastern Sonora,” Kendra Lee Miller, a relative of the victims, wrote in an account of the attack posted on Facebook Tuesday. “Two of them to see family in Chihuahua, and one of them to pick up her husband from the airport in Phoenix, AZ. They never made it. They were ambushed by the Mexican cartels; shot, burned, and murdered in cold blood. These were innocent civilians, American citizens simply trying to live peaceful lives.”
“For 11 hours, their families all over Sonora, Chihuahua, and the Midwestern US waited in fear and horror for any news of possible survivors,” she continued. “The first vehicle was found full of bullet holes and completely ablaze. Nita and the four of her seven children she had taken on the trip were burned to mostly ashes and only a few charred bones left to identify that all five had been inside. It appeared that one tried to escape as the front passenger door was open and the remains were partially in and out of the vehicle.”