FARGO — A Fargo man who’s related to the victims of a series of brutal attacks in northern Mexico described the deaths as “tragic,” and said the crimes can’t be “brushed under the rug.”
Albert LeBaron, 24, who runs a drywall operation in Fargo with several of his brothers, said the victims of the Monday, Nov. 4, ambush are first cousins to him.
Nine U.S.-Mexico dual citizens were killed in the attacks, including Rhonita Maria Miller and four of her children, who lived in Williston.
LeBaron said there is speculation the families were somehow caught between rival drug cartels, or were mistaken for one, but neither seems likely.
“It’s just insane. Usually, it’s crossfire, but this is completely a massacre,” said LeBaron, who spoke by phone from Cheyenne, Wyo.
The victims were all members of a fundamentalist Mormon family that has a long-established presence in Mexico, according to The Washington Post.
Albert LeBaron grew up in such a community, the Colonia de LeBaron in Chihuahua.
It and others are polygamous offshoots of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
ND delegation calls for action
Miller, her children and 12 other extended family members in SUVs were traveling from a Mormon community known as La Mora, in the Sonora state, according to the Post.
Attackers ambushed Miller's vehicle, shot Miller and her children and burned the car with the family still inside.
Family member Kendra Lee Miller posted on Facebook the names of the victims, including 30-year-old Rhonita and her children, 12-year-old Howard, 10-year-old Krystal and 8-month-old twins, Titus and Tiana. She said the family's husband and father, Howard Sr., was in North Dakota during the attack, and the couple's three other children were being looked after by grandparents in La Mora.
Four others, including two children, were killed during attacks on the other cars, while eight survived.
A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D, called the killings "a horrible tragedy" and said the congressman has been in touch with the U.S. State Department about the attack.
North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven also released a statement calling for cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico to stop drug cartels.
"The ruthless violence of the drug cartels in Mexico is abhorrent, which is why our nations should work together to stop the violence at the border," he said.
President Donald Trump said the U.S. would be willing to help Mexico "wage war" on Mexican drug cartels. The offer was declined by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who thanked Trump for the support but said his country would pursue the criminals independently, the Post reported.
Baby found alive
The vicious attacks on the vehicles carrying women and children occurred as some in the group were traveling to a family member’s wedding.
More than 200 bullet casings were found near the vehicles, state authorities said.
The attacks began Monday morning after the women left the community of La Mora, according to Lenzo Widmar, a community member who found two of the destroyed vehicles.
Miller was just outside the village of San Miguelito when her SUV came under attack, Sonora state security officials said.
About 11 miles east, toward the Chihuahua state border, authorities found the second vehicle with the bodies of a woman and two children. Relatives identified them as Dawna Langford and her 11- and 3-year-old children. They said several other children escaped from the vehicle.
The third vehicle was found about a mile east of the Chihuahua border. The body of a woman was found nearby, on the ground. She was identified as Christina Langford Johnson.
Her baby was found, still alive, on the floor of the vehicle.
LeBarons have strong ND presence
Albert LeBaron, of Fargo, said while this kind of violence happens regularly in his home country, no one thinks about it “until it happens to you.”
He’s planning to travel to Mexico soon to give support to family members and to attend his cousins' funerals.
LeBaron estimates there are about 30 of his extended family working in Fargo. With wives and children added in, the number is about 60, he said.
He said in Williston, there are well over 50 Langford and Lebaron families, with others living in Dickinson, Killdeer, Watford City and Minot. Some of them will also be traveling to attend the funerals, he said.
Asked whether he fears for his own safety when returning to Mexico, LeBaron said he's not scared but is very aware of what’s going on around him. He avoids certain areas, people and activities, he said.
LeBaron, who is married and has four children, said he’s willing to stand up for a brighter future for Mexico and his family members still living there.
He said if there are protests held to demand the Mexican government resolve the violence, he’ll take part.
“Change is going to have to come out of this,” he said.
The Washington Post contributed to this report.