The suspect – only identified as a 30-year-old man named Leonardo – was found late Tuesday in the town of Agua Prieta, right at the border with the U.S. state of Arizona, holding two hostages who were gagged and tied inside a vehicle
A heavily armed suspected drug lord who was arrested and is under investigation for the slaughter of nine Americans, was found with two hostages and a cache of high-powered weapons.
The suspect – only identified as a 30-year-old man named Leonardo – was found late Tuesday in the town of Agua Prieta in Sonora state after the Mormon family was ambushed a day earlier.
He was holding two hostages who were gagged and tied inside a vehicle, Mexico’s Agency for Criminal Investigation said.
Authorities said the suspect, who is part of an El Chapo rival cartel, was also found in the possession of four assault rifles and ammunition, as well as various large vehicles including a bullet-proofed SUV.
The hostages are not believed to be related to the nine LeBaron family victims who were killed on Monday while traveling in a convoy of three SUVS on a dirt road in Sonora state.
The Sonora prosecutor’s office told DailyMail.com they were still investigating if the arrested suspect is connected to the brutal slayings.
Devastated family members of the slain victims visited the scene of the grisly murders late on Tuesday and were pictured sobbing as they saw the burnt out and bullet riddled SUVs.
Authorities were spotted hauling away the burnt wreck from the scene on Wednesday.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said on Wednesday he was open to allowing U.S. law enforcement to help out with the massacre investigation as officials revealed that the weapons used in the attack were smuggled from the U.S.
Officials have said that the cartel gunmen may have mistaken the group’s large SUVs for those of a rival gang amid a vicious turf war.
They also blamed Juarez drug cartel and its armed wing, La Linea, for the attack on the LeBaron family.
Authorities said the suspect, who is part of an El Chapo rival cartel, was also found in the possession of four assault rifles and ammunition, as well as various large vehicles including a bullet-proofed SUV
Devastated family members of the slain victims visited the scene of the grisly murders late on Tuesday and were pictured sobbing as they saw the burnt out and bullet riddled SUVs. Authorities were spotted hauling away the burnt wreck from the scene on Wednesday
La Linea’s gunmen had entered Sinaloa cartel territory and set up an armed outpost on a hilltop and an ambush further up the road.
The Sinaloa cartel was previously headed by Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán. The area where the attack occurred is dominated by a Sinaloa cartel offshoot called the Salazar.
The Juarez cartel apparently wanted to send a message that it controlled the road into Chihuahua. It was this invasion force that the American mothers and their three vehicles drove into.
It was only after the first vehicle belonging to the family was shot up and set alight that 50 or 60 Sinaloa cartel gunmen showed up to see what had happened.
‘It is believed that the La Linea criminal organization acted on a threat from the Salazars to enter Chihuahua,’ General Homero Mendoza said.
‘It decided to send a cell to the Janos and Bavispe city limits… This cell was sent to stop any incursion of the Salazar criminal cell to Chihuahua.’
The military general also said that La Linea and the Salazars were involved in another shootout earlier on Monday that resulted in the death of a man.
Emotional members of the LeBaron family look into the burned SUV where some of the nine murdered family members were killed and burned during a cartel gunmen ambush on Monday
Devastated family members of the slain victims visited the scene of the grisly murders late on Tuesday and were pictured sobbing as they saw the burnt out and bullet riddled SUVs
Soldiers assigned to Mexico’s National Guard stand by a bullet-riddled vehicle belonging to one of the mothers gunned down in the cartel ambush that killed nine
The interior of a bullet-riddled vehicle belonging to one of the families that were killed by assailants is pictured at the scene of the crime
Police found a baby car seat spattered with blood in a bullet-riddled SUV that was being driven by one of the mothers
Belongings stained with blood are seen inside a bullet-riddled vehicle that members of LeBaron family were traveling in when they were gunned down by cartel members
Distraught members of the LeBaron family mourn while they watch the burned car where nine members of their family were killed and burned
The mothers were driving in separate vehicles with their children from the La Mora religious community where they live, which is a decades-old settlement in Sonora state founded as part of an offshoot of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Rhonita Miller and four of her children – her six-month-old twins, Titus and Tiana, her 10-year-old daughter Krystal and 12-year-old son Howard – were all killed.
Another two mothers, Dawna Langford and Christina Langford Johnson, as well as Dawna’s sons, Trevor, 11, and Rogan, 3, were also all killed.
Eight children, some just infants, survived the ambush.
Those surviving children not only escaped the drug cartel gunmen who killed their mothers but managed to hide in the brush for hours until help arrived.
The five wounded children were seriously enough injured that Mexican authorities flew them to the border in a military helicopter to receive hospital care in the United States.
Sonora state health officials said they were ‘stable’ at the moment of transfer. Three other children who were not wounded are in the care of family members in La Mora.
At least three American mothers and six children from a Mormon community based in northern Mexico have been massacred in an attack blamed on drug cartel gunmen. Maria Rhonita Miller was killed along with her six-month-old twins, Titus and Tiana (left and right), her 10-year-old daughter Krystal (left) and 12-year-old son Howard (center)
Christina Langford Johnson (left) and Dawna Ray Langford (right) were also killed traveling in two separate SUVs. Christina saved her seven-month-old baby Faith’s life by throwing the infant to the floor of their SUV. Two of Dawna’s children, Trevor, 11, and Rogan, 3, were killed in the attack
Dawna Ray Langford, 43, and two of her children, Trevor, 11, (right with his mom) and Rogan, 3, (left) also died in the attack
HOW LA LINEA CARTEL HAS WAGED WAR ON EL CHAPO’S TURF
La Linea operates as an enforcer of the Juarez Cartel. Juan Pablo Ledezma is the gang’s current leader who is wanted by the Mexican government. The government has issued a $2million reward for his capture.
The gang has been operating since 2008 when it joined forces with the Barrio Azteca gang to fight El Chapo’s Sinaloa Cartel.
The armed group formed an alliance with the Juarez Cartel and its presence along the Mexico-U.S. border further strengthened the cartel’s drug shipping routes.
Its former leader, José Antonio ‘El Diego’ Acosta Hernández, was arrested in July 2011, and later extradited to the United States. He was found guilty on four counts, including organized crime, drug trafficking and money laundering. He was sentence in April 2012 to three life sentences plus 20 years.
El Diego was guilty of killing more than 1,500 people from 2008 to 2011.
La Linea has been linked to some of the most atrocious murders in Ciudad Juarez. El Diego sent gunmen to a party in January 2010 where 16 teenagers were assassinated.
On June 10, 2010, dozens of gang members raided a drug rehab facility in Chihuahua and led 20 patients outside the clinic and shot them execution-style, killing 19 and injuring four.
Six days later cartel members detonated a car with 22 pounds of explosives on a street. They first plucked an innocent bystander from the street and beat him up before dressing him in police uniform and dumping him near the vehicle. They then called police and a cop and paramedic who attended the scene were killed in the explosion along with the man and another male civilian.
La Linea is also loyal to the Beltran-Leyva Cartel and Los Zetas.
It has been embroiled in deadly drug turf battles with Los Antrax, Los Mexicles and Gente Nueva, all armed wings of the Sinaloa Cartel.
The gang has also been involved in deadly encounters with Artistas Asesinos, a street gang once tied to El Chapo’s group, and Los Salazars, a group it’s trying to keep out of Chihuahua and which it battled in the hours leading up to the massacre that claimed the lives of nine U.S. citizens this week.
Authorities in Utah, where the family has ties, believes the same cartel responsible for their slaying is running operations in the U.S. state.
Utah County undersheriff, Shaun Bufton, said they have been dealing with cartels for years.
‘We have illegals here that have been dealing drugs in Mexico,’ Bufton said. ‘They come up here. They work here. They go back. They go to California. They go to Arizona. It’s the same people. It’s the same group.
‘As you saw yesterday, when that family was murdered in Mexico, you’re talking women and children, and they just don’t care.
‘If you look at the homicides in Mexico, the number of people, Americans who get in the crossfire, there’s a lot.’
Meanwhile, the sheriff of an Arizona county told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson that drugs cartels posed a similar threat to terror groups like ISIS.
‘Think about what ISIS does and think about what the cartels do. They terrorize,’ Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels said.
‘They kill both their own citizens – they kill Americans as demonstrated last night… We know one thing for sure, the cartels are behind it.’
In the aftermath of the tragedy, harrowing and heroic details emerged of the attack including how Dawna’s quick-thiking 13-year-old son Devin covered his injured siblings with branches to hide them before walking 13 miles to get help from relatives back at La Mora.
Relatives say he reached the community six hours later. Family members alerted authorities before arming themselves with guns to go out searching for the injured children.
Christina has also been credited with saving her children’s lives after she stashed her seven-month-old baby Faith on the floor of her Suburban and got out of the vehicle, waving her arms to show the gunmen she wasn’t a threat.
She may have moved away from the vehicle to distract their attention because her bullet-ridden body was found about 15 yards away from the SUV.
The baby was found unharmed and still in her car seat on the backseat floor of the SUV when family members arrived at the scene hours later. She has since been reunited with her father Tyler Johnson.
The five children who were injured when Mexican drug cartel gunmen ambushed them and massacred nine of their Mormon family members were airlifted to hospitals in the U.S. following the grisly attack
Authorities also released images of the children being airlifted with the assistance of the Mexican Air Force.
What the children went through in the remote, mountainous area of Sonora state is nearly indescribable.
Kendra Miller, a relative, said in an account of the shootings that Devin Langford, 13, was one of the few uninjured young people and quickly took charge, eventually walking about 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,’ according to the account.
‘When he took too long to return, his 9-year-old sister left the remaining five 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. She was listed as missing for a while.
Altogether, the kids were on their own from about 1pm, when the ambush began, until about 7.30pm, when they were rescued.
Relatives from La Mora tried to reach them before that, but were turned back by gunfire. The area is the site of a cartel turf war.
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. It was an agonizing decision.
What they saw when they found the children was terrifying.
Dawna’s eight-year-old son Cody Greyson Langford had been shot in the jaw and leg. Her 14-year-old daughter Kylie was shot in the foot and four-year-old Xander was shot in the back.
Brixon, a nine-month-old, suffered a gunshot wound to the chest. Her son Jake was found injured in the same spot but it’s not clear what his injuries are.
Dawna’s injured children are pictured above in hospital. Brothers Xander Boe, 4, and Cody Grayson, 7, suffered gunshot wounds in the attack
Dawna’s injured children are pictured above in hospital. Kylie Evelyn, 14, is pictured left in hospital with blood soaked jeans as she is comforted by a relative following thew shocking attack. Brixon Oliver, 10 months, feeds from a bottle (right) in hospital alongside his siblings
But it isn’t the cruelty of the cartel, but the bravery, innocence and sacrifice of the victims that relatives want remembered.
Austin Cloes, a relative of the victims, said from his home in Salt Lake City that they were good people who loved their children and enjoyed their quiet lives based around a successful pecan farming operation.
‘This sort of thing shouldn’t go unnoticed,’ said Cloes, who works with at-risk youth and coaches high school basketball.
‘And these sorts of people shouldn’t just be buried without their names being put out there. These are great people.’
The victims lived in Sonora state, about 70 miles south of Douglas, Arizona, in the hamlet of La Mora, which was founded decades ago by an offshoot of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Many La Mora residents call themselves Mormons but are not affiliated with any church.
A number of such American farming communities are clustered around the Chihuahua-Sonora state border. Many members were born in Mexico and have dual citizenship. While some of the splinter groups were once polygamous, many no longer are.
All of the victims were apparently related to the extended LeBaron family in Chihuahua, whose members have run afoul of the drug traffickers over the years.
Benjamin LeBaron, an anti-crime activist who founded neighborhood patrols against cartels, was killed in 2009.
The victims had set out from their home in three SUVS.
Family members say Rhonita was driving to Phoenix, Arizona with her children to pick up her husband at the airport following his work trip.
Christina and Dawna were each traveling with their own children and were en route to see family in the state of Chihuahua for a wedding that was scheduled for Friday, relatives told DailyMail.com.
Life in the LeBaron Mormon stronghold: Mexico community that lost three mothers and six children in cartel massacre was founded by U.S. citizens fleeing a polygamy ban and has been blighted by drug violence, murder and abuse for decades
The Mormon stronghold in Mexico founded by U.S. citizens fleeing a polygamy ban, where three families were just slaughtered by drugs cartels, has been blighted by violence and murders for years.
The families were members of the La Mora settlement, a century-old community in Mexico’s Sonora state that was founded by the LeBaron family as a fundamentalist offshoot of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
On Monday, at least six children and three women were murdered when a Mexican gang opened fire on their convoy of three SUVS on a dirt road.
But it would not be the first time that members of the break-away church had been attacked in northern Mexico.
In fact, the extended community has already faced cartel violence and killings, as well as murders between their own family members.
As recently as 2010, two members of the Chihuahua Mormon community, including one from the LeBaron family, were killed in apparent revenge after security forces tracked drug gang members.
The Mormons had suffered widespread kidnappings before that. Their large houses and lifestyle had made them appear rich to drug gangs, Vice reported in 2012.
The nine women and children killed by drug cartel gunmen in northern Mexico lived in a remote farming community where residents with dual U.S.-Mexican citizenship consider themselves Mormon. Many are descended from former members of The Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints who fled the U.S. to escape the church’s 19th century ban on polygamy
And in 2016 former resident Ruth Wariner detailed life inside the community, describing 41 siblings, constant beatings, a house with no electricity and no modern plumbing.
Founded as part of an offshoot of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after the church abandoned the practice of polygamy in the late 1800s, some polygamous Mormons moved to Mexico to set up new colonies.
The LeBaron family was founded by Alma Dayer LeBaron. He set up the community with his family in 1924 after being excommunicated from the church.
Alma passed the leadership over to his son Joel when he died in 1951. He subsequently incorporated the community as part of Salt Lake City’ Church of the Firstborn.
His younger brother Ervil was his second in charge at the time. The brothers later fell out over the leadership of the community and Ervil went on to set up another sect in San Diego, California in 1972.
Evril, who had at least 13 wives, had Joel killed in 1972. He was tried and convicted in Mexico for Joel’s murder in 1974.
While in prison, he wrote the 400-page commandment to kill disobedient church members who were included in a hit list.
Evril died in prison in 1981 but six family members organized ‘four o’clock’ murders, which saw an eight-year-old child and three former members shot dead within minutes of each other in Texas in 1988.
Benjamin LeBaron, left, and Luis Widmar Stubbs, right, who are members of the same Mormon community as the family killed on Monday by a Mexican cartel, were also murdered by drug lords 10 years ago for denouncing cartel kidnappings
Relatives and friends carry the coffins of Mormon activist Benjamin LeBaron and his brother-in-law Luis Carlos Widmar during their funeral in Galeana, State of Chihuahua in July 2009
His son Heber was held in connection with slayings in Texas and Utah in the 1980s. Another sons, Aaron, was jailed for 45 years in a conviction connected to the murders.
Ervil LeBaron who had at least 13 wives, had his brother Joel killed in 1972. He was tried and convicted in Mexico for Joel’s murder two years later
One of Evril’s daughter Anna LeBaron said: ‘My father would order mob-style hits and those would be carried out by his cult members if they stopped believing in him or his practice or religion and left, or sometimes it was rival cult leaders that were blood-atoned for being false prophets.’
While many La Mora residents, where the victims lived, identify as Mormon, they also consider themselves independent from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said Cristina Rosetti, a Mormon fundamentalism scholar and expert.
Many of the families living in the area known for growing cotton and grain trace their La Mora origins to the 1950s – and some have much deeper roots.
A La Mora resident who spoke on condition of anonymity said his great grandfather settled there in the late 1890s or early 1900s after leaving the U.S. and was later run back across the border by Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa.
The great grandfather didn’t return, but the resident’s grandfather moved back to La Mora in the 1950s along with others, said the resident, who feared that he could be targeted by the cartel if he was identified.
Although many La Mora residents believe in mainstream Mormonism tenets, they also believe ‘they shouldn’t be forming churches, they shouldn’t be organizing under one leader. They should just be Mormon and live their Mormon life. That’s who the people of La Mora are,’ Rosetti said.
Some of the families living there still practice polygamy while others stopped generations ago, she said.
Ruth Wariner lived on Colonia LeBaron until she ran away at the age of 15 – and took her three younger siblings with her. Her father was murdered when she was three-years-old and her mother was quickly married off to another man in the community.
That’s when the beatings began, she says. And, eventually, repeated sexual abuse.
Heber LeBaron covers his face with a bible while he and his half brother Douglas Barlow leave a court hearing in 1988. The two men were the sons of polygamist sect leader, the late Ervil LeBaron. LeBaron and his Church of the Lamb of God were linked to slayings from Utah to Mexico and the LeBaron brothers are being held in connection with slayings in Texas and Utah
Wariner said the church taught the women to turn a blind eye, believing marriage was their only ticket into ‘the kingdom of heaven’.
Many Mormons in Mexico enjoy dual Mexican and American citizenship.
Mexico has registered more than 250,000 murders since the government controversially deployed the army to fight drug trafficking in 2006.
Many experts blame the ‘drug war’ for spiraling violence, as fragmented cartels battle each other and the army.
Mexican Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said the nine, traveling in several SUVs, may have been victims of mistaken identity, given the high number of violent confrontations among warring drug gangs in the area.
But the LeBaron extended family has often been in conflict with drug traffickers in Chihuahua and a relative of the victims said the killers surely knew who they were targeting.
‘We’ve been here for more than 50 years. There’s no-one who doesn’t know them. Whoever did this was aware. That’s the most terrifying,’ said Alex LeBaron, a relative, in one of the villages inhabited by the extended family.
Eric Hawkins, spokesman for the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said it understood the victims were not members of the institution, but that the church was ‘heartbroken’ over the attack.