The nine women and children, members of the LeBarón community, killed in northern Mexico could have been the victims of a territorial dispute between a branch of the Sinaloa Cartel and a rival gang, officials said on Wednesday and may have been used to lure one of the cartels into a gunfight. Those murdered were members of breakaway that settled in Mexico in 1924. As previously reported, the families were ambushed as they drove along a road in the Sonora-Chihuahua border.

Lafe Langford, who grew up in the Mormon LeBarón community, said that the victims were “deliberately targeted, used as bait to lure one cartel against another.”

It is reported that cartel gunmen opened fire on the three mothers and 14 children traveling from Sonora to meet with relatives in Chihuahua and Phoenix, Arizona.

The LeBarón case: Drug cartels & the fight to control drug trafficking routes
The LeBarón case: Drug cartels & the fight to control drug trafficking routes

Members of the Lebaron family watch the burned car where part of the nine murdered members of the family were killed - Photo: Herika Martínez/AFP

It later emerged that according to a family statement based on reports from the surviving children, when bullets began to pummel the first car, a white Chevrolet Suburban, Christina Marie Langford Johnson stepped out waving her arms to show that they were not gang members but she was shot dead; nevertheless, her baby, Faith, survived the attack.

Gunfire then ripped into a second Suburban, carrying Dawna Langford and nine children, some two kilometers back, authorities said. Dawna and two of her sons were killed. A third car, located 18 km behind, was shot up and burst into flames, killing Rhonita Miller and her four children. An official added that the Miller family's car appeared to have exploded as a result of the gunfire.

Wars between drug cartels A few hours earlier, the La Línea armed group, a former branch of the Chihuahua-based Juárez Cartel sent gunmen to defend the border between Sonora and Chihuahua after attacks were registered in a nearby town by the Los Salazar faction of the rival Sinaloa Cartel, a top Mexican general told a news conference. General Homero Mendoza said the Juárez Cartel wanted the Sinaloa Cartel off the territory it controls and although no official explanation has been given for the massacre, Mendoza and other officials say the cartel may have mistaken the families’ SUVs for those of its rival.

The LeBarón case: Drug cartels & the fight to control drug trafficking routes
The LeBarón case: Drug cartels & the fight to control drug trafficking routes

For years, the Sinaloa and Juárez Cartels have fought to control lucrative routes in the Mexico-U.S. border region, which are used to traffic cocaine, heroin, and other narcotics and into the United States.

However, relatives of the victims rejected the mistaken identity theory and argue that shell casings and personal belongings found near the torched car suggest the attackers came close to the vehicles and made sure everybody was dead before burning the vehicle. “They shot us up, burned our vehicles to send a smoke signal into the sky,” Langford said, arguing that the gang’s goal was to draw the Sinaloa gunmen into battle. The LeBarón and other families’ accounts of the attacks and later efforts to find the surviving children include reports of shootings from the hillsides that continued well after dusk.

The armed groups controlled by the Sinaloa and Júarez Cartels The Juárez Cartel was founded by Amado Carrillo, “El Señor de Los Cielos” and operates in Chihuahua. It was two branches: La Línea and Los Aztecas. La Línea was part of Juárez Cartel until 2017 when it transformed into the “New Juárez Cartel” (NCDJ). The Sinaloa Cartel has around 10 branches: Gente Nueva, Los Cabrera, Cártel del Poniente, La Laguna, Los Aquiles, El Tigre, Del 28, Los Artistas Asesinos, Los Salazar, and Los Memos. However, Los Salazar control important drug trafficking routes and are the main suspects behind the violence wave in Sonora and Chihuahua. Furthermore, another criminal group, “Gente Nueva,” is led by Francisco Arvizu, “El Jaguar”. This group operates in Agua Prieta, close to where the Mormon families were killed. A source has said that Martín Encinas, a gunman who works for “El Jaguar,” is the perpetrator of the attack against the members of the LeBarón community.

Although the Juárez and Sinaloa Cartels are fighting over control of the region, on October 27, alleged members of the Sinaloa Cartel warned the inhabitants of the Agua Prieta community, a community near Bavispe, the place where the LeBarón family was killed, that the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel (CJNG) could also join the conflict. The LeBarón family: a tragic story

Moreover, they are where the inhabits, has been abandoned by the governments led by Felipe Calderón, Enrique Peña Nieto, and Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

The LeBarón case: Drug cartels & the fight to control drug trafficking routes
The LeBarón case: Drug cartels & the fight to control drug trafficking routes

Since 2009, activist Julián LeBarón has emphasized the violence that besieged northern Chihuahua as a result of the presence of drug cartels in the area, as well as in the nearby municipalities in Sonora.

The LeBarón case: Drug cartels & the fight to control drug trafficking routes
The LeBarón case: Drug cartels & the fight to control drug trafficking routes

Numbers for the statistics institute (INEGI) show that in the last decade, over 1,724 have been killed in 9 municipalities in Chihuahua and 10 in Sonora, which are neighboring communities. Although the numbers increased and lowered, there is an increase in the homicide rates in 2017 and 2018 in the border between Sonora and Chihuahua.

On December 2, 30 members of the Lebarón family met with President López Obrador and government officials to receive information in regards to the murder of nine family members. On December 1, authorities announced that; so far, 4 suspects have been arrested in total.

After the meeting, Julián LeBarón said he was happy with the investigation results and that he was glad the government wasn't lying to the LeBarón family.

According to news agency AP, Mexican authorities confirmed that cartel members filmed themselves killing the Mormon families. Members of the LeBarón family confirmed they have seen the video.

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