In the remote agricultural community of La Mora and under strong security measures, the LeBarón family and relatives organize funerals that could last until Friday because some of the bodies will be taken to the neighboring state of Chihuahua, where the bulk of the Mormon community living in that Mexican region has lived for almost a century.
It is expected that at least 1,000 visitors, many from the United States, arrive in this town of about 300 inhabitants to attend the funeral trades. All victims had US citizenship.
In the brutal attack not clarified by the authorities, heavily armed men fired at three trucks in which several members of the LeBarón family were traveling. Three women and six minors died, and eight other children survived, including a newborn who was protected from bullets by her mother's body.
One of the trucks was completely charred, with five bodies inside, and the other two vehicles destroyed by bullets and with remains of blood from the victims. More than 200 percussion caps of US-made weapons were counted.
When the gunmen opened fire on the vehicles, the Mexican army, the National Guard and the police of the state of Sonora were not there to counter it and protect the LeBarón family. It took about eight hours to arrive. The weak response has caused outrage to the family.
Two surviving girls of the bloody attack, hospitalized at the Banner University Medical Center, in Tucson, Arizona, they were discharged on Wednesday, while three other children are stable and recovering from their injuries, but they must still remain under treatment. One of them was shot in the face. The bullet broke his lower jaw, so it requires reconstructive surgery.
A "stupidity" that is not accepted
At the end of Wednesday night, a caravan of about 70 vehicles with Mormon families that traveled from Chihuahua arrived at La Mora Ranch to attend the funeral.
The community, erected in a solitary land, is small. Mormons inhabit thirty American-style houses, surrounded by large pines.
The link with the United States is evident: there are vans with license plates from California, Idaho, Colorado, Washington, and English-speaking customers eating hamburgers at Ray’s Restaurant, Coffee & Grill. Many of the residents with dual citizenship were born there and their families have been there for decades.
Military vehicles patrol the ranch outside, while the villagers continue some of the activities in the farmland of nuts and pomegranates.
"We come to honor your memory, to try to understand what is happening. It is the responsibility of the authority to investigate and tell us what happened. (…) It is an act of terrorism for all Mexicans "said Alex LeBarón, who has been involved in politics and headed the caravan.
For the Mexican Secretary of Security, Alfonso Durazo, the attack could have been the result of "confusion" by criminal groups acting in the area. On Tuesday he said that the attackers would be 'Los Jaguares', a cell of the Sinaloa cartel, but on Wednesday he pointed to 'La Línea', former gunmen of the Juarez cartel.
"I don't know what the mistake was, they knew they were women and children and they still attacked them and after having attacked them, they set them on fire," Julián LeBarón, an activist and community leader, told AFP.
"No authority can be legitimate … when it says' I don't protect you but I forbid you the means for you to defend yourself and protect yourself. We do not accept this stupidity"he added angrily.
The National Guard "is not where it should be"
Steven Langford, who was mayor of the village from 2015 to 2018, expects the murders to have an “important” impact on the community and that about half of the residents can leave outside, in the absence of state forces and the presence of criminal groups linked to drug trafficking.
"This was a massacre, 100% a massacre"Langford told AFP, who lost a sister, Christina Langford, in the ambush. "I don't know how it is in anyone's conscience to do something so horrible," he added.
A similar impression has William Stubbs, a walnut and alfalfa producer who is a member of a safety committee of the LeBarón Colony. He believes that some will move with their families to the United States for fear of violence in Mexico, but that they will eventually return, as happened after the murder of Bejamín LeBarón in 2009, at the hands of a criminal group.
After that crime, the residents of the village took turns every night for two years to take positions with high-power binoculars and watch from the 'LeBarón' sign, which is on a hillside above the village. The cartels left, but returned forcefully after a few years, colonizing vast expanses of the north of the country.
Stubbs has many doubts about the “hugs, not bullets” security strategy sponsored by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to try to solve the underlying social problems, instead of fighting drug cartels with military force.
“I am really shocked at his way of thinking. That will not solve the problems”, He said. "We are not military experts, neither of war, nor of weapons," Stubbs said. “We are farmers and we have large and incredible families. We definitely want our families to be peaceful. ”
The expert on security issues Alejandro Hope, quoted by the PA, argues that "there are areas where the State is very fragile", where the presence of the National Guard is necessary, which has 70,000 elements. However, the states of Sonora and Chihuahua, which have a joint extension of 160,000 square miles (420,000 square kilometers), only have 4,100 GN troops, around one agent for every 40 square miles (100 square kilometers).
“The central instrument of this government’s policy, which is the National Guard, is not where it should be”, Said Hope. "They must put them in the mountains, they are not there," he added.