Mex­ico am­bush vic­tims re­mem­bered

Ser­vices held for 2 women and 6 chil­dren killed by car­tel mem­bers

The Arizona Republic - - Front Page - Rafael Car­ranza, Anne Ry­man and Daniel Gon­za­lez

LA MORA, Mex­ico — Fu­neral ser­vices were held Thurs­day for two of the women and six of the chil­dren ambushed and killed by car­tel mem­bers in a re­mote moun­tain­ous re­gion in Sonora.

In the first of two fu­ner­als, fam­ily mem­bers and friends of Dawna Lang­ford, 43, and her two chil­dren, Trevor Lang­ford, 11, and Ro­gan Lang­ford, 2, hon­ored their

memory dur­ing an emo­tional ser­vice in the close-knit com­mu­nity of La Mora. Hun­dreds of peo­ple from the U.S. and Mex­ico showed up, pack­ing row af­ter row of seats set up in Lang­ford’s front yard.

Fam­ily mem­bers car­ried the three wooden cas­kets out from the house to the front yard, with the small­est cas­ket for 2-year-old Ro­gan com­ing out last. For more than 30 min­utes, rel­a­tives paid their re­spects be­fore the ser­vice be­gan. Sev­eral of Lang­ford’s 13 chil­dren shared mem­o­ries of their mother and two sib­lings killed in Mon­day’s at­tack.

They de­scribed Lang­ford as a car­ing mother who loved her cof­fee. Trevor and Ro­gan were re­called as “two beau­ti­ful boys.”

Bryce Lang­ford, the sec­ond old­est of her chil­dren, said he felt help­less when he heard about the am­bush. He was in North Dakota at the time, more than 1,500 miles away. Even be­fore hear­ing any news on whether his fam­ily was OK, he got in his truck and be­gan driv­ing, pray­ing to God to pro­tect the fam­ily.

“God didn’t an­swer my prayers that day. He took my mother and my two lit­tle broth­ers,” he said.

But the fact that seven of his other sib­lings sur­vived that day is truly a mir­a­cle, he said.

“And I will al­ways be grate­ful to God for that,” he added.

Four of his sur­viv­ing sib­lings at­tended the fu­neral ser­vice, in­clud­ing two girls who had been trans­ported to Tuc­son’s Ban­ner Univer­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter for treat­ment af­ter the at­tack. The girls were re­leased from the hos­pi­tal Wed­nes­day and were able to travel to Mex­ico with their fa­ther.

Three of Dawna Lang­ford’s youngest chil­dren con­tinue to re­cover at UMC from wounds they sus­tained in the am­bush. Xan­der, 4, was shot in the back, while 4-month-old Brix­ton was shot in the chest. Both are in sta­ble con­di­tion and “are do­ing well,” one rel­a­tive said.

Their 8-year-old brother, Cody, was shot in the jaw and leg. He un­der­went surgery on Wed­nes­day and is ex­pected to have sev­eral other pro­ce­dures to re­con­struct his jaw, ac­cord­ing to the fam­ily.

Crys­tal Lang­ford, 17, the fourth old­est of the 13 sib­lings, de­scribed the guilt she felt be­cause her mother ini­tially did not want her to move from La Mora to Utah. If she had stayed, she could have been there for her broth­ers and sis­ters fol­low­ing Mon­day’s at­tack, she said.

“Now I know that it’s all in God’s plan, and he has a big­ger plan for me,” she said. “So I could be there for his seven lit­tle sur­vivors, and I could help raise them like my momma would.”

All three were buried in La Mora fol­low­ing Thurs­day’s ser­vices.

A to­tal of nine peo­ple — three women and six chil­dren — were killed in the am­bush as they trav­eled near the Sono­raChi­huahua bor­der where car­tels have been fight­ing a turf war.

Lang­ford’s hus­band of nearly 25 years, David Lang­ford, con­cluded the fu­neral ser­vices say­ing his wife had died as a hero dur­ing Mon­day’s am­bush. He shared ad­di­tional de­tails about how some of the last mo­ments of her wife’s life were en­tirely fo­cused on their chil­dren.

“When the bas­tards are fir­ing on my chil­dren, she told them to get down to the floor,” he said. “And if you look back at the car, ev­ery one of them would’ve been dead if she didn’t tell them to act so quickly. Mean­while, she risked her life and took a bul­let in the head.”

Fol­low­ing the Lang­ford ser­vice, at­ten­dees fol­lowed a pro­ces­sion to the com­mu­nity’s burial plot, lo­cated on the north­ern edge of La Mora. Three trucks car­ried each cas­ket and hun­dreds of peo­ple fol­lowed.

At the burial plot, the three cas­kets were sealed and low­ered into a large rec­tan­gu­lar hole that fam­ily mem­bers had dug Thurs­day morn­ing.

Sur­rounded by other rel­a­tives, sev­eral men be­gan to cover them with shov­el­fuls of dirt.

At the same time, other fam­ily mem­bers and rel­a­tives scoured the nearby hill for large rocks and boul­ders, car­ry­ing them to the site of the burial where they will be used to cre­ate the tomb.

The sec­ond fu­neral ser­vice in La Mora be­gan at 4 p.m., a short time af­ter fam­ily mem­bers and rel­a­tives had fin­ished bury­ing Lang­ford and her two chil­dren. Be­cause the women were re­lated, the at­ten­dees at the ser­vice for Rhonita Miller, 30, also had at­tended the ear­lier one.

One by one, fam­ily mem­bers eu­lo­gized Miller, whom they af­fec­tion­ately called “Nita,” as well as her four chil­dren, who also were killed in Mon­day’s am­bush: Howard, 12, Krys­tal, 10, and 8month-old twins Ti­tus and Tiana.

Miller’s fa­ther, Adrian LeBaron, said that de­spite the tragic cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing their sud­den deaths, the fam­i­lies of all three women should seek strength. “What hap­pened here should be an ex­am­ple to all of Mex­ico, to each place and each town, that they can­not de­feat us,” he said.

Fa­ther-in-law Ken­neth Miller Sr. de­scribed Miller as “al­ways bub­bly.”

He said dur­ing Lang­ford’s ser­vice ear­lier, a thought popped into his head that he couldn’t shake off. “They had some bod­ies that they can dress and touch, that’s a bless­ing. I wouldn’t never thought of that,” he said.

As Miller trav­eled with her chil­dren on Mon­day, gun­men shot at them and caused their ve­hi­cle to ex­plode with their bod­ies still in­side. The fam­ily had cas­kets at the fu­neral ser­vice, but they lamented all they have left to bury are in­cin­er­ated re­mains. The Miller fam­ily said they will trans­port the re­mains this morn­ing to neigh­bor­ing Chi­huahua to be buried.

Sonora Gov. Clau­dia Pavlovich made a brief ap­pear­ance at the first fu­neral ser­vice. She ar­rived by he­li­copter at about 9 a.m. and spent time with the fam­ily.

To­day, a third fu­neral will take place in Colo­nia LeBaron in Chi­huahua for Christina John­son, 32.

PHO­TOS BY NICK OZA/THE REPUB­LIC

Fam­ily mem­bers con­sole each other Thurs­day dur­ing the fu­neral of Dawna Lang­ford and her two chil­dren, Trevor and Ro­gan, who were ambushed in Mex­ico on Mon­day.

Fam­ily mem­bers and friends carry the cas­kets of Dawna Lang­ford and her two chil­dren, Trevor and Ro­gan, on Thurs­day.

NICK OZA/THE REPUB­LIC

David Lang­ford is con­soled at the fu­neral of his wife, Dawna Lang­ford, and chil­dren, Trevor and Ro­gan.

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