A Mexican drug cartel ambushed a convoy of Americans, killing at least nine –– including three women and six children –– in a gruesome shootout that left one of their vehicles a burned-out husk, authorities said.
The youngest victims include a pair of twins who were less than a year old. A relative at the scene described seeing some of the victims "burnt to a crisp."
A GoFundMe for the victims' families lists nine people dead. All of the victims are believed to be members of the extended LeBaron family, who live in a settlement in northern Mexico founded decades ago by religious settlers that has often run afoul of drug cartels in the region.
The victims lived in the hamlet of La Mora in the state of Sonora, according to The Associated Press. La Mora is about 75 miles south of the U.S. border, and the victims that lived there have dual citizenship with the United States and Mexico.
A relative of the family, Julian LeBaron, described the attack as a “massacre,” and alleged some family members were burned alive, according to Reuters.
Investigators painted a grim picture of the ambush, which spread for miles. Two of the vehicles were found close to each other and riddled with bullets. Authorities found a total of approximately 200 shell casings from assault rifles and other weapons at the various crime scenes.
Christina Marie Langford Johnson, 29, was found shot to death outside of her vehicle–but her infant daughter was discovered unharmed inside the vehicle. The second vehicle was only a short distance away, where Dawna Ray Langford, 43, lay dead in the front seat, along with the bullet-riddled bodies of her sons, Trevor Langford, 11, and Rogan Langford, 2.
A grisly sight awaited investigators at the third vehicle, 10 miles away — where the ambush had started, according to AP. The third car was only a burnt husk, and inside were the charred remains of Rhonita Miller, 30, her 10-year-old daughter Krystal Muller, son Howard Miller,12, and 8-month-old twins Titus and Tiana Miller.
Alongside the many dead, a number of children escaped the ambush with injuries, according to authorities. One of the children was shot in the face during the ambush and their rescue was waylaid after a search party of family members looking to help was scared off by ongoing gunfire.
Investigators described how one boy hid the other children and then walked back to his home to get help. Another girl, initially listed as missing, walked off in another direction to get help after the first boy hadn't returned for hours – despite her gunshot wounds.
The five children who escaped the ambush have been transferred to hospitals in the United States, U.S. and Mexican authorities said.
The group was attacked Monday while traveling in a convoy of three SUVs toward Chihuahua, Mexico for a wedding, according to the Arizona Republic. Mexican Security Secretary Alfonso Durazo said that the cartel may have mistaken the group’s large SUVs for those of rival gangs.
“The convoy made up of Suburban vans could have been confused with criminal groups that fight for control in the region,” Durazo said.
“A wonderful family and friends from Utah got caught between two vicious drug cartels, who were shooting at each other, with the result being many great American people killed, including young children, and some missing,” President Donald Trump said on Twitter. He offered assistance to Mexico in the case.
An official with the Mexican province of Sonora told the AP that a suspect in the killings has been apprehended, but it was unclear if the person took part in the ambush.
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