Nine killed in US family 'massacre' may be victims of mistaken identity

5 November 2019, 09:46 | Updated: 5 November 2019, 19:52

Nine US citizens, including six children and three women, have been killed after being ambushed by drug cartel gunmen on a dirt road in northern Mexico.

All the victims were part of the extended LeBaron Mormon family who settled in the plains and hills of Sonora state decades ago near the US border.

A relative said the attack was on a convoy of several families, and survivors told him three cars were shot at and one was set on fire.

Willie Jessop said: "Everyone is in so much shock. It's just unbelievable, and there's just no way to comprehend it."

Mexican security minister Alfonso Durazo said the gunmen may have mistaken the group's large vehicles for those of rival gangs fighting for control of the region.

The attack took place in a remote, mountainous area where the Sinaloa cartel has been in a turf war with another gang.

The gunmen killed one woman, Christina Langford Johnson, after she jumped out of her vehicle and waved her hands to show she was not a threat, according to family members.

The six dead children were believed to four boys and two girls, and included eight-month-old twins. The others were aged two-and-a-half years, 10, 11 and 12.

Police first found a burned-out Chevy Tahoe with five people dead. About 11 miles up the mountainous road, they found a Suburban with a dead woman and two dead children inside.

Farther on, they found a second SUV and, about 15m (49ft) away, the body of a woman.

Eight children are believed to have survived. Several were apparently seriously wounded - including a nine-month-old shot in the chest and a four-year-old shot in the back.

Around the ambush scene, which stretched for miles, investigators found over 200 spent shell casings, mostly from assault rifles.

Mexican government authorities said the family of three women and 14 children were on their way from Galeana, Chihuahua, to Bavispe, Sonora, and were attacked near the border between the two states.

The victims were identified by relative Kendra Lee Miller as Christina Marie Langford Johnson, 29, Dawna Langford, 43, Trevor Langford, 11, and two-and-a-half year old Rogan Langford.

Also killed were Rhonita Miller, 30, Howard Miller, 12, Krystal Miller, 10, and eight-month-old twins Titus and Tiana Miller.

A video posted on social media showed the smoking remains of a burnt-out vehicle, riddled with bullet holes.

Choking with emotion, the American voice on the video - which has not been independently verified - said: "This is for the record. Nita and four of my grandchildren are burnt and shot up."

A member of the Lebaron family, Julian LeBaron, described the attack as a "massacre", saying some of those targeted were burnt alive.

He went on to say that some people who survived the attack were being taken to Phoenix, Arizona, for medical treatment.

Another family member said all nine victims were dual US-Mexican citizens.

Kendra Lee Miller said a 13-year-old, Devin Langford, escaped uninjured and then walked for about 14 miles to La Mora, where the family lived, for help after hiding his wounded siblings in bushes and covering them with branches.

Mckenzie Langford, nine, was grazed in the arm with a bullet, but she also went to look for help after Devin Langford did not come back.

Mckenzie got lost and walked for hours in the dark before she was found by search parties.

US President Donald Trump called on his Mexican counterpart to tackle drug cartels in the region.

He tweeted: "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.

"If Mexico needs or requests help in cleaning out these monsters, the United States stands ready, willing & able to get involved and do the job quickly and effectively."

Mexican officials said extra federal and local security forces have been deployed.

The victims lived in the hamlet of La Mora in Sonora state, about 70 miles south of Douglas, Arizona.

The settlement was founded by an offshoot of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the family had problems with drug traffickers over the years.

The Mormon family is understood to have suffered a series of kidnappings in the region over the years.