9 U.S. Citizens, All Family Members, Died In Mexico Highway Attack

Nov 6, 2019
Originally published on November 7, 2019 5:03 pm

After the members of a Mormon family were shot to death in Sonora, Mexico, this week, a relative of the victims says the rest of the community won't let drug violence drive them from the region.

: 11/06/19

An earlier version of this transcript incorrectly said Murphy Woodhouse is from member station KJZZ's front terrorist desk. He is from KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Another story we're following in Mexico - a relative of the nine victims shot to death in a Monday attack says the family will not be run off by the drug cartels that have made the area around their home so dangerous. Murphy Woodhouse from member station KJZZ's Fronteras Desk reports.

MURPHY WOODHOUSE, BYLINE: The three mothers and their 12 children who live in Mexico were travelling in three vehicles when they were ambushed by an unknown number of assailants.

DANIEL LEBARON: They were headed towards Phoenix, toward Tucson.

WOODHOUSE: Daniel LeBaron, who also lives in Mexico, is the cousin of Rhonita Maria Miller, one of the women killed in the ambush along with four of her children. He says they were going shopping and to the airport.

LEBARON: Just, like, a routine trip out of town to the U.S. And, unfortunately, this tragic event occurred.

WOODHOUSE: Authorities recovered some 200 spent bullet casings at several scenes near the town of Bavispe, according to Sonoran authorities. They also found the burnt-out frame of a Chevy Tahoe with five bodies inside. The other two vehicles were roughly 10 miles away. All told, three adults and six children were killed, with another four children injured. LeBaron says some family of the victims believe the ambush might have started as a case of mistaken identity. But, he says, the attackers didn't back off even after they realized there were only women and children in the cars.

LEBARON: I think it's not accurate to say that they were caught in the crossfire because everything indicates that it was done by just one cartel that was in the area.

WOODHOUSE: The tight-knit community here in the Sonora-Chihuahua border region has dealt with drug cartel violence for years. LeBaron says it's been escalating, putting his family members at what he called ground zero of that dispute. His and other binational Mormon families have lived here for decades, and they don't plan on leaving. The Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not recognize these groups as a part of their church. They pride themselves on being bilingual citizens of both Mexico and the United States. He says they see the beauty in both countries.

LEBARON: We've been here for five generations. Most of us have blood from both places. We're going to fight this. We're going to stand up to whoever we have to stand up to.

WOODHOUSE: He says it's too easy for Americans to just blame Mexico for drug violence.

LEBARON: The U.S. is the biggest consumer of everything they're fighting for down here. I mean, 90% of the weapons that are used down here are - come from the U.S. I mean, there's - there - maybe - I'm not blaming one place or another. I'm just - it's really easy to point the finger south and say, cartels are screwing everything up. The government's corrupt. Well, maybe the U.S. needs start doing its part too.

WOODHOUSE: U.S. Ambassador Christopher Landau was in Hermosillo, the Sonoran capital, yesterday, addressing the Arizona-Mexico Commission meeting shortly after news of the shooting broke.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRISTOPHER LANDAU: (Speaking Spanish).

WOODHOUSE: "The binational lives of the massacre's victims underscore the challenge that both countries face," he says - combating organized crime, something Landau argues can't be done by either country on its own. Nor does each side blaming the other for the security situation help, he says. Landau says it's very important for the two countries to move forward together against criminal groups, which he describes as very strong.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LANDAU: (Speaking Spanish).

WOODHOUSE: "It is in the common interest of our countries to defeat organized crime," Ambassador Landau says, adding, "there is no alternative. We have to win, and we will." For NPR News, I'm Murphy Woodhouse in Hermosillo, Mexico. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.