Res­i­dents of Mex­i­can town strug­gle with fear af­ter mas­sacre

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Peter Orsi As­so­ci­ated Press

LA MORA, MEXICO >> Af­ter hold­ing fu­ner­als for and bury­ing some of the nine Amer­i­can women and chil­dren slain in a car­tel am­bush, res­i­dents of this town of about 300 are left to come to grips with the fear the at­tacks in­spired among the tightly knit com­mu­nity.

“I do not feel safe here, and I won’t, be­cause the truth is we aren’t safe here as a com­mu­nity,” David Lang­ford said be­tween tears ad­dress­ing mourn­ers at the fu­neral for his wife, Dawna Ray Lang­ford, Thurs­day in La Mora, whose res­i­dents con­sider them­selves Mor­mon but are not af­fil­i­ated with The Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints.

While the sib­ling com­mu­nity of Colo­nia Le Baron has been peace­ful since the 2009 mur­der of one of its mem­bers and sub­se­quent in­stal­la­tion of a se­cu­rity base, La Mora lacks such a pres­ence — at least un­til Mon­day’s killings prompted state and fed­eral forces to de­ploy to pro­tect those who came to mourn. How long they stay could be cru­cial to its fu­ture.

“We here in the moun­tains, we have no ac­cess to au­thor­i­ties, or very, very lit­tle,” David Lang­ford said.

The buri­als Thurs­day took place as Mex­i­can sol­diers stood guard, a re­minder of the dan­gers they face liv­ing amid a drug car­tel turf war.

The first fu­neral was for a mother and two sons who were laid to rest in hand­hewn pine coffins in a sin­gle grave dug out of the rocky soil. Clad in shirt sleeves, suits or modest dresses, about 500 mourn­ers em­braced in grief un­der white tents. Some wept, and some sang hymns.

Mem­bers of the ex­tended com­mu­nity — many of whom, like the vic­tims, are dual U.S-Mex­i­can cit­i­zens — had built the coffins them­selves and used shov­els to dig the shared grave in La Mora’s small ceme­tery.

Mourn­ers filed past to view the bod­ies and pay their fi­nal re­spects to Dawna Ray Lang­ford , 43, and her sons Trevor, 11, and Ro­gan, 2.

They were laid to rest to­gether, just as they died to­gether Mon­day when at­tack­ers fired a hail of bul­lets at their SUV on a dirt road lead­ing to an­other set­tle­ment, Colo­nia LeBaron. Six chil­dren and three women in all were killed in the at­tack on the con­voy of three SUVs.

In a raw, tear­ful ser­vice, rel­a­tives re­counted valiant ef­forts to try to res­cue their loved ones af­ter the am­bush, and how some of the chil­dren walked miles out of the moun­tains to the town, sit­u­ated about 70 miles (110 kilo­me­ters) south of the Ari­zona bor­der.

There was no talk of re­venge in the deeply re­li­gious com­mu­nity, only jus­tice.

“God will take care of the wicked,” Jay Ray, Dawna’s fa­ther, said in a eu­logy.

David Lang­ford called his wife a hero for telling her chil­dren to duck as their ve­hi­cle came un­der fire.

“I find it hard to for­give,” he said. “I usu­ally am a very for­giv­ing guy, but this kind of atroc­ity has no place in a civ­i­lized com­mu­nity.”

“My chil­dren were bru­tally, bru­tally mur­dered,” he said, “and my beloved wife.”

Of the survivors, he said, son Cody had had a plate in­stalled in his jaw, which was be­ing wired shut for six weeks.

Dawna’s younger sis­ter Am­ber Ray, 34, eu­lo­gized her as a de­voted mother to her 13 chil­dren and home­maker who loved a good laugh and baked the best birth­day cakes around.

“There isn’t any­thing in life that a cup of cof­fee couldn’t make bet­ter,” Am­ber said Dawna was fond of say­ing.

The three coffins, two of them child-size, were placed into the beds of pickup trucks, and fam­ily mem­bers rode with them to the grave, hun­dreds of mourn­ers fol­low­ing on foot.

Later in the day, a me­mo­rial was held for Rhonita Miller and four of her chil­dren, all of whom also were mur­dered on the road be­tween La Mora and Chi­huahua state.

In a grassy back­yard be­fore hun­dreds of at­ten­dees, she was eu­lo­gized as an “in­no­cent spirit, beau­ti­ful heart” and a woman whose laugh “could light up a room.”

Son Howard Jr. loved bas­ket­ball and re­cently was de­lighted to make his first three-pointer; daugh­ter Kristal was “the ap­ple of her daddy’s eye;” twins Ti­tus and Tiana, born March 13, were re­mem­bered as “two per­fect an­gels in the first pre­cious mo­ments of their lives.”

Their bod­ies were to be taken later across the road where they died for burial in Colo­nia Le Baron. The two com­mu­ni­ties, whose res­i­dents are re­lated, drew to­gether in a show of grief.

Pa­trols of Mex­i­can army troops passed by reg­u­larly on the ham­let’s only paved road.

Gun­men from the Juarez drug car­tel had ap­par­ently set up the am­bush as part of a turf war with the Si­naloa car­tel, and the U.S. fam­i­lies drove into it.

Mex­i­can of­fi­cials said the at­tack­ers may have mis­taken the group’s large SUVs for those of a ri­val gang.

But Ju­lian LeBaron, whose brother Ben­jamin, an anti-crime ac­tivist, was killed by car­tel gun­men in 2009, dis­puted that.

“They had to have known that it was women and chil­dren,” he said. He said the eight chil­dren who sur­vived re­ported that one mother got out of her SUV and raised her hands and was gunned down any­way.

To many, the blood­shed seemed to demon­strate once more that the govern­ment has lost con­trol over vast ar­eas of Mexico to drug traf­fick­ers.

And it called into ques­tion Pres­i­dent An­drés Manuel López Obrador’s “hugs, not bul­lets” se­cu­rity strat­egy of try­ing to solve un­der­ly­ing so­cial prob­lems in­stead of bat­tling drug car­tels with mil­i­tary force.

“Now this place is go­ing to be­come a ghost town,” said Steven Lang­ford, a for­mer La Mora mayor whose sis­ter Christina Lang­ford was among the women killed. “A lot of peo­ple are go­ing to leave.”

CHRIS­TIAN CHAVEZ

Fam­ily and friends weep dur­ing the fu­neral ser­vice for Dawna Ray Lang­ford, 43, and her sons Trevor, 11, and Ro­gan, 2, who were killed in an am­bush ear­lier this week, in La Mora, Mexico, Thurs­day, Nov. 7, 2019. As Mex­i­can sol­diers stood guard, the three were laid to rest in a sin­gle grave at the first fu­neral for the vic­tims of a drug car­tel am­bush that left nine Amer­i­can women and chil­dren dead.

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