Victims of the brutal Mexico massacre were laid to rest together Thursday — just as they had died — in handmade pine coffins as the first of a series of funerals began to remember the victims.
Hundreds traveled to the small community of La Mora in Sonora to honor the lives of the nine victims, including six children, who were gunned down Monday in a hail of bullets as they traveled in a convoy of SUVs away from the hamlet of La Mora, where Mormon fundamentalist descendants of the victims had once found solace.
“I find it hard to forgive,” said David Langford, the grieving husband of 43-year old Dawna Langford, who was shot to death along with two of the couple’s sons, according to The Associated Press. “I am usually a very forgiving guy, but this kind of atrocity has no place in a civilized community.”
Dawna Langford, her 11-year-old son, Trevor, and her 2-year-old son, Rogan, were the first of the nine victims to be laid to rest Thursday morning in a somber ceremony at the family’s home, The Arizona Republic reports.
Memorial services for mom Rhonita Miller and her children and Christina Johnson were held later Thursday and Friday.
On Thursday morning, chairs lined the family’s front yard as three handmade caskets were brought out and a series of moving eulogies began.
“I’ve never experienced this kind of pain in my life,” Dawna’s brother Justin Ray said through tears according to The Washington Post.
Relatives described Dawna — who grew up in the nearby Mormon community of LeBaron — as a devoted mother, who had loved her coffee and had been close with her large family that included 49 brothers and sisters.
All of the victims who had been killed were dual citizens in the United States and Mexico.
“I’m never going to be able to talk to her again,” her mother, Karen Wooley, said through tears, according to Arizona station KTVK. “She was a good mother, and I used to talk to her on the phone as we drank coffee in the mornings.”
In her final moments, her husband, David, said she had tried to save her children.
“When the bastards are firing on my children, she told them to get down to the floor,” he said, according to The Arizona Republic. “And if you look back at the car, every one of them would’ve been dead if she didn’t tell them to act so quickly. Meanwhile, she risked her life and took a bullet to the head.”
Seven of the nine children who had been in the car at the time survived the ambush and would hide in nearby bushes for hours before they were rescued. Three remain hospitalized with gunshot wounds — including 4-month-old, Brixton, who had been shot in the chest.
Bryce Langford, the second oldest of Dawna’s 13 children, had not been in the vehicle that fateful day and was more than a thousand miles away in North Dakota. When he received news there had been an ambush he jumped into his car and began to make the long trek to La Mora, praying along the way for God to protect his family.
“God didn’t answer my prayers that day. He took my mother and my two little brothers,” he said, according to The Arizona Republic, before adding that he would always be grateful seven of his other siblings survived.
After the service, the three coffins were placed into the beds of pickup trucks and taken to a large nearby grave that had been dug to bury the family members together.
Later that afternoon, mourners remembered the life of Rhonita Miller and her four children, whose bodies were incinerated after their car caught on fire when it’s believed one of the bullets struck the gas tank.
Mourners remembered Miller as an “innocent spirit” with a “beautiful heart,” according to the Associated Press.
Her father-in-law, Kenneth Miller Sr., described her as “always bubbly,” The Arizona Republic reports.
Miller died along with her 12-year-old son, Howard Jr., who was remembered for his love of basketball, her 10-year-old daughter, Krystal, who had been “the apple of her daddy’s eye,” and her 8-month-old twins, Titus and Tiana.
The family planned to take the bodies to the nearby Colonia Le Baron to bury the family.
The final funeral for Christina Johnson, 32, will be held Friday at the Colonia LeBaron in Chihuahua, The Arizona Republic reports.
Mexican authorities have pledged to find justice for the families who are still grappling with the horrific deaths.
“After such a loss like this one, I think the best support I can provide is that we bring them justice, working jointly with all levels of government, of course, given the brutality and cowardice of this crime,” said Sonora Gov. Claudia Pavlovich, who made a brief appearance at the Langford funeral said according to the paper.
In the aftermath of the deaths, many are left wondering what will happen to the families who had made a home against the mountains in La Mora and the nearby Colonia Le Baron. The communities had been a refuge for its residents, who consider themselves Mormon but are not associated with The Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The areas are remote and often left unprotected by law enforcement as drug cartels in the area continue to gain power.
“I do not feel safe here, and I won’t, because the truth is we aren’t safe here as a community,” David Langford said during the emotional funeral for his wife, according to the AP.
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