‘It’s like a night­mare’

Mex­ico massacre hits home in Wood­bridge

Lodi News-Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Wes Bow­ers NEWS-SEN­TINEL STAFF WRITER

WOOD­BRIDGE — On Mon­day, Wood­bridge res­i­dent Donna Gold­berg re­ceived a phone call that be­gan days of tor­ment she said no fam­ily should have to go through.

“It’s like a night­mare,” Gold­berg said. “I’ve been in touch with broth­ers and sis­ters, keep­ing up with every­thing that’s go­ing on.”

The phone call Gold­berg re­ceived Mon­day was to let her know that three of her sis­ters and six nieces and neph­ews had been killed in an am­bush in the Mex­i­can state of Sonora near the bor­der of Chi­huahua.

“I knew ev­ery one of them,” Gold­berg said. “I had just been down there in May be­cause we lost a sis­ter to breast can­cer. I had lit­er­ally held the twins in my arms.”

The nine killed were mem­bers of the LeBaron Mor­mon com­mu­nity that had been es­tab­lished by Gold­berg’s grand­fa­ther more than 70 years ago.

Gold­berg her­self was one of the first in the colony to be born in Mex­ico, but re­turned to the United States in 1974.

One of the women killed, Dawna Ray Lang­ford, was named af­ter her, she said. An­other vic­tim, Rhonita Miller, was Gold­berg’s first-cousin’s daugh­ter. Four of Miller’s chil­dren were killed in the at­tack, in­clud­ing eight-mon­thold twins Ti­tus Alvin and Tiana Gri­cel, whom Gold­berg had held in May.

“It’s just so emo­tional right now,” Gold­berg said. “All of them have big fam­i­lies. They’re just whole­some, good peo­ple who were mind­ing their own busi­ness. Re­gard­less of their faith, they were good, God-fear­ing peo­ple try­ing to be good hu­man be­ings.”

Miller, Dawna Ray Lang­ford and Christina Marie Lang­ford all were driv­ing sep­a­rate ve­hi­cles with their chil­dren in tow to visit fam­ily, rel­a­tives have told me­dia out­lets. They were driv­ing the con­voy for added pro­tec­tion, rel­a­tives have said,

The area where Gold­berg’s rel­a­tives were at­tacked is, ac­cord­ing to the Los An­ge­les Times, a con­tested route be­tween ri­val car­tels for smug­gling drugs and mi­grants, lo­cated about 100 miles south of the United States bor­der.

Rel­a­tives told the Times the women had just left the fam­ily ranch and were headed to Ari­zona be­fore trav­el­ing to an­other Mor­mon com­mu­nity.

Ac­cord­ing to a spe­cial com­mis­sion es­tab­lished by Mex­i­can pres­i­dent An­dres Manuel Lopez Obrador to in­ves­ti­gate the in­ci­dent, more than 200 shell cas­ings were found at the am­bush site.

One of the ve­hi­cles caught fire in the at­tack, rel­a­tives have said.

Seven chil­dren sur­vived and were trans­ported to a hos­pi­tal in Ari­zona for treat­ment.

Gold­berg said she has taken is­sue with the way sev­eral me­dia out­lets have por­trayed the in­ci­dent and her fam­ily.

“They are ac­cu­rate when they talk about what hap­pened,” she said. “But now they’re try­ing to say they’re a drug cartel, which isn’t true. Years ago I had an un­cle who did some hor­ri­ble things that they’re try­ing to bring up. The fo­cus should be on what’s hap­pened, and I pray to God their lives will count for some­thing.”

In a re­port re­leased yes­ter­day, NBC ref­er­enced the fam­ily’s his­tory as a fun­da­men­tal­ist Mor­mon group with a sor­did his­tory. The re­ported noted Ervil LeBaron, Gold­berg’s un­cle, who formed his own church and had 51 women with 13 wives.

Ac­cord­ing to CNN, a former Mex­i­can For­eign Min­is­ter said the fam­ily had fric­tions with car­tels or neigh­bor­ing com­mu­ni­ties over wa­ter rights, and that the fam­ily may have been tar­geted.

Gold­berg said she doesn’t think any of that is true, and that what hap­pened to her fam­ily would have hap­pened to any­one trav­el­ing in that area.

“I’ve been on those road be­fore,” she said. “It’s beau­ti­ful scenery, but peo­ple - even tourists - don’t travel at night any­more, just for their own safety, be­cause of the car­tels. Some­thing’s got to be done.”

Gold­berg said when she lived in the com­mu­nity, you could leave your home at all hours of the day and night and meet noth­ing but smil­ing, friendly faces.

Ten years ago, a mem­ber of the LeBaron fam­ily liv­ing in Chi­huahua was ab­ducted by sus­pected cartel mem­bers and re­turned home un­harmed af­ter one week, ac­cord­ing to CNN.

His brother, Ben­jamin LeBaron, be­came an anti-crime ac­tivist shortly there­after. But he and a brother-in-law were killed two months later, CNN re­ported.

Gold­berg said she is still try­ing to process the events of Mon­day, and has no im­me­di­ate plans to visit her fam­ily in Mex­ico any­time soon. She does hope that those re­spon­si­ble are brought to jus­tice as soon as pos­si­ble.

Funerals for Miller, 30, and Dawna Ray Lang­ford, 43, and their chil­dren — Ti­tus Alvin Miller, 8 months; Tiana Gri­cel Miller; 8 months; Howard Miller Jr., 12; Krys­tal Bel­laine Miller, 10; Trevor Lang­ford, 12; and Ro­gan Lan­gord, 2 — were held Thurs­day in La Mora, Sonora, Mex­ico.

“There was no rea­son for this sense­less act,” she said. “There’s no rea­son it should hap­pen to any­one, and I hope this helps bring at­ten­tion to the lo­cal Mex­i­cans who have suf­fered sim­i­lar atroc­i­ties at the hands of the car­tels.”

BEA AHBECK/NEWS-SEN­TINEL

Donna Gold­berg and her daugh­ter, Brit­tany Wil­liams, are pic­tured at Gold­berg’s Wood­bridge home Thurs­day. They lost nine fam­ily mem­bers — three moms and their chil­dren — in the at­tack in Mex­ico on Mon­day.

COUR­TESY DONNA GOLD­BERG

Tyler John­son with his wife, Christina John­son, pose to­gether. Christina was killed in the at­tack.

PHO­TO­GRAPHS COUR­TESY OF DONNA GOLD­BERG

Donna Gold­berg’s sis­ter, Ver­landa Gu­tier­rez, cen­ter, holds Ti­tus Miller, and the twin’s mother, Rhonita Miller, right, holds Tiana Miller, while the twins’ fa­ther, Howard Miller, stands at left in May. Rhonita Miller and her twin ba­bies were all killed in the am­bush.

Donna Gold­berg is pic­tured by the town sign dur­ing a trip to Mex­ico in May.

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