Bavispe, Sonora, MEXICO – Four children were found dead in a burning SUV riddled with bullet holes, and several family members are still missing, after three vehicles travelling to a wedding south of the U.S. border in Mexico were attacked on Monday.
The victims were all part of a Mormon community of U.S.-Mexican dual citizens who were traveling from Bavispe, Sonora to attend a wedding in Janos, Chihuahua, CNN reported.
Reports said that the incident occurred after one of the vehicles, driven by Maria Ronita LeBaron, got a flat tire and the other two vehicles turned back to get help, The Washington Post reported.
As they waited for help to return, the vehicle was attacked by cartel members who slaughtered Maria Ronita LeBaron and her four children, including six-month-old twin babies.
When the other two vehicles returned, they were ambushed, The Washington Post reported.
Several children escaped from the attack, but more were murdered. Some of the victims are still missing.
A man related to some of the victims said that three women, four small children, and two infants were murdered.
“Women and children - between 14 years old and 10 months - were massacred, burnt alive,” Alex LeBaron told CNN. “Mothers were screaming for the fire to stop.”
“We are a very tight-knit community, we share everything that’s happening. We’ve been dealing with this tragedy since early yesterday. We share all information within our family groups,” Alex LeBaron explained.
He said seven injured children had been airlifted to Douglas, Arizona and transported to Tucson hospitals, CNN reported.
Julian LeBaron told The Washington Post that he found another family member, Christina Langford Johnson, dead.
“I found Christina. She was outside her car, face down, assassinated, and I found her baby, who was still alive,” Julian LeBaron said.
Sonoran authorities have said it has “not been possible to specify an official figure of the total number of victims” because of the remote location where the family was attacked, CNN reported.
Recently, there have been concerns that the violent drug cartels in Mexico would be further emboldened after a failed attempt by the government to arrest the son of narcotics kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán on Oct. 17.
The Sinaloa cartel launched a brutal response that involved numerous military-grade weapons and left eight dead, 20 more wounded, and an entire city under siege until the authorities released Ovidio Guzmán Lopez.
On Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump called on Mexico to “wage war” against the cartels who have been tormenting their country.
“If Mexico needs or requests help in cleaning out these monsters, the United States stands ready, willing & able to get involved and do the job quickly and effectively,” President Trump tweeted. “The great new President of Mexico has made this a big issue, but the cartels have become so large and powerful that you sometimes need an army to defeat an army!”
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador thanked President Trump for offering to help but said his country would pursue the criminals with “independence and sovereignty,” The Washington Post reported.
Alex LeBaron told CNN he believed the attacks were “most likely by accident, mistaken for their rivals. All shot while in vehicles while driving.”
But The Washington Post reported that the LeBaron family has had a tumultuous past with the Mexican drug cartels.
The family, who describes themselves as a polygamous offshoot of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, moved from Utah to Mexico in 1924 after a dispute with the central church over polygamy.
They set up farming communities and maintained close ties to the United State for decades without problems, but their relative wealth brought them to the attention of growing cartels in the area, The Washington Post reported.
The LeBaron family became the target of kidnapping and extortion.
Benjamin LeBaron, 31, a prominent family member, was shot to death in 2009 after he publicly denounced the drug traffickers who had abducted his brother, The Washington Post reported.
The cartel demanded a $1 million ransom but the family would not pay.
Benjamin LeBaron’s murderers left a note that said he was killed because of his activism, The Washington Post reported.