Kids hid as hor­ror un­folded in Mex­ico

They saw rel­a­tives die, walked hours for help

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Adri­anna Ro­driguez and Kristin Lam

In­cred­i­ble sto­ries of sur­vival emerged Wed­nes­day from north­ern Mex­ico as au­thor­i­ties searched for clues into a mas­sacre that took the lives of nine fam­ily mem­bers – three women and six chil­dren.

Eight chil­dren man­aged to es­cape from car­tel gun­men who am­bushed three SUVs Mon­day – killing the chil­dren’s moth­ers – along a dirt road in a re­mote moun­tain­ous area of Sonora state in an at­tack that left one ve­hi­cle a burned- out, bul­let- rid­dled hulk.

The chil­dren hid amid the brush as bul­lets flew; some walked miles to get help de­spite gun­shot wounds.

The vic­tims were all dual U. S.- Mex­i­can cit­i­zens, rel­a­tives said. Five of the eight chil­dren were se­ri­ously in­jured and flown to the bor­der in a mil­i­tary he­li­copter to re­ceive hos­pi­tal care in the United States. Sonora state health officials said the chil­dren were sta­ble at the mo­ment of trans­fer.

The three re­main­ing chil­dren were in the care of fam­ily mem­bers at the small set­tle­ment of La Mora.

Ken­dra Miller, a rel­a­tive, said Devin Lang­ford, 13, was one of the few un­in­jured chil­dren and quickly took charge, even­tu­ally walk­ing about 14 miles back to La Mora for help.

“Af­ter wit­ness­ing his mother and broth­ers be­ing shot dead, Devin hid his six other sib­lings in the bushes and cov­ered them with branches to keep them safe while he went for help,” Miller told the As­so­ci­ated Press. “When he took too long to re­turn, his 9- year- old sis­ter left the re­main­ing five to try again.”

That girl, Mcken­zie Rayne Lang­ford, walked for hours in the dark be­fore she was found sev­eral hours af­ter the other chil­dren were res­cued.

Al­to­gether, the chil­dren were on their own from about 1 p. m., when the am­bush be­gan, un­til about 7: 30 p. m., when they were res­cued. Rel­a­tives from La Mora tried to reach them be­fore that but were turned back by gunfire. The area is the site of a car­tel turf war.

One mother’s body was found yards away from an SUV where her baby, Faith, was found alive.

In record­ings of calls be­tween the res­cuers, they can be heard de­bat­ing whether it was bet­ter to risk more lives or wait for an hour or two un­til Mex­i­can Army troops ar­rived.

Christina Lang­ford John­son – one of three moth­ers who died Mon­day – re­port­edly stashed her 7- month- old baby on the floor of her Subur­ban and got out of the ve­hi­cle, wav­ing her arms to show the gun­men she wasn’t a threat.

Her bul­let- rid­dled body was found about 15 yards away from the SUV. Her baby, Faith, was found alive in her car seat on the floor of the ve­hi­cle.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors in north­ern Mex­ico ini­tially said a sus­pect ar­rested Tues­day may be con­nected to the mas­sacre, but on Wed­nes­day se­cu­rity official Al­fonso Du­razo said pre­lim­i­nary in­for­ma­tion in­di­cates he was not in­volved. The sus­pect had been found hold­ing two hostages and in pos­ses­sion of four as­sault rifles and am­mu­ni­tion, as well as var­i­ous large ve­hi­cles that in­cluded a bul­let­proofed SUV. One of the ve­hi­cles was linked to a rob­bery in Phoenix.

Officials have said the gun­men might have mis­taken the group’s SUVs for those of a ri­val gang.

Homero Men­doza, Mex­ico’s gen­eral sec­re­tary of de­fense, said in a news con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day that early Mon­day there was a gun­bat­tle near the Sono­raU. S. bor­der be­tween mem­bers of two crim­i­nal groups, Chi­huahua- based La Linea and Sonora’s Los Salazar. La Linea then sent a cell to the re­gion to pre­vent mem­bers of Los Salazar from trav­el­ing into Chi­huahua, Men­doza said.

The three fam­i­lies were trav­el­ing on a ru­ral road that leads from Sonora to Chi­huahua when they were at­tacked, start­ing with the first ve­hi­cle about 9 a. m. The oth­ers were at­tacked around 11 a. m., about 11 miles away, Men­doza said.

“Th­ese acts in which women and chil­dren lost their lives makes it clear that we need a col­lab­o­ra­tion and a union of forces,” the Agency for Crim­i­nal In­ves­ti­ga­tion for the state of Sonora said in a state­ment.

It re­mains un­known whether the anti- crime rep­u­ta­tion of the vic­tims’ ex­tended fam­ily influenced the Mon­day at­tack. The vic­tims were re­lated to the LeBaron fam­ily, whose mem­bers have clashed with drug traffick­ers over the years. One of them, Ben­jamin LeBaron, was mur­dered by the car­tels in 2009 af­ter he founded neigh­bor­hood pa­trols against them.

“It’s dev­as­tat­ing,” rel­a­tive Leah Stad­don said Tues­day. “It’s in­com­pre­hen­si­ble, the evil. I don’t un­der­stand how some­one could do that.”

The vic­tims, who lived in Sonora state, about 70 miles of Dou­glas, Ari­zona, be­longed to a fun­da­men­tal­ist Mor­mon ranch­ing com­mu­nity founded by peo­ple who sep­a­rated long ago from The Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter- day Saints, rel­a­tives said. The church ex­pressed its sym­pa­thy but said the fam­i­lies were not mem­bers.


Mem­bers of the LeBaron fam­ily, to whom the vic­tims were re­lated, ex­am­ine a ve­hi­cle that ex­ploded in flames in the at­tack.

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