The person taken into custody by Mexican authorities in connection with the massacre of nine U.S. citizens—including six children—is no longer considered a suspect in the case, authorities said.
Alfonso Durazo, a public security official told the Associated Press Wednesday that a preliminary investigation suggests the suspect who was taken into custody Tuesday in the border city of Agua Prieta while armed and traveling with two gagged hostages, does not appear to be connected to the slayings.
Authorities are still trying to determine who may have been responsible for the attack that has sent shockwaves through communities in Mexico and the United States and left five children in the hospital with gunshot wounds as they grieve their slaughtered relatives.
The gunfire broke out Monday near the Sonora-Chihuahua border as three mothers and their children were driving in a convoy of SUVs along the highway. All three women—and six of their children—were killed in the gunfire.
Marcello Ebrard, who is a member of a special commission formed by Mexico’s president to investigate the murders, said that more than 200 shell casings were recovered near the scene of the ambush, which stretched for miles, CNN reports.
Secretary of Security Alfonso Durazo has said the gun caps recovered at the scene came from a weapon made in the United States; however, authorities are still not sure who carried out the vicious attack.
Mexican officials believe the Americans—who were living in northern Mexico hamlet of LaMora and are believed to be descendants of a fundamentalist Mormon group—may have been mistaken as rivals by a drug gang.
Gen. Hector Mendoza, Mexico’s army chief of staff, said Wednesday “it was not a targeted attack” and pointed to the fact that eight children survived the gunfire as a reason to believe it may have been a case of mistaken identity, the AP reports.
Chihuahua Attorney General César Peniche Espejel has also suggested that the attack may have been carried out by members of a drug cartel, pointing to the newly formed Los Jaguares cartel, an offshoot of the Sinaloa drug cartel.
“They have been growing near the border with the United States and are heavily involved in tracking of immigrants to the United States and drug-trafficking,” he said, according to CNN.
But other officials and family members have questioned whether the family 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," former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda said, according to the news outlet.
Julian LeBaron, a relative, also told the Associated Press there was possible evidence to suggest the family had been the intended target.
“They had to have know that it was women and children,” said LeBaron, whose own brother Benjamin was killed by a drug cartel in 2009.
Two of the SUVs had been headed to meet family in Chihuahua when the gunfire broke out, according to a post on Facebook from relative Kendra Lee Miller. Dawna Langford, 43, had been driving one of the SUVs carrying nine children. She was shot to death along with her sons 11-year-old Trevor Langford and 2-year-old Rogan Langford. Her other seven children managed to survive the gunfire and hide.
The driver of the second SUV, Christina Marie Langford Johnson, 31, had leapt out of the car to try to alert the gunman that it was only women and children in the SUVs, but she was shot to death, Miller said in the post.
Before she had gotten out of the vehicle, it’s believed that she hastily placed her young 7-month-old daughter’s car seat on the floor, saving the infant’s life.
A third SUV—found along the roadway about 10 miles behind the other two—had been headed to an airport in Arizona, Miller said.
The driver, Rhonita Maria Miller, 30, and four of her children, Howard, 12; Krystal, 10; and 8-month-old twins Titus and Tiana were all “burned to mostly ashes” after a bullet ignited the SUV’s gas tank.
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