MEXICO CITY – Gunmen attacked a Mormon family on a road in northern Mexico, killing nine people, including six children, officials said on Tuesday.
The attack on Monday “left nine dead, three women and six children, six children wounded and a girl unharmed, and (another) girl presumably missing,” Citizens Safety and Protection Secretary Alfonso Durazo said.
The attack occurred just after 12:00 pm Monday on a state highway near the border between the states of Sonora and Chihuahua, and practically on the border with the United States, Durazo said.
Three women and 14 children were traveling from Galeana, Chihuahua, to Bavispe, Sonora, when their convoy was attacked by gunmen.
“The convoy (of the LeBaron family) may have been mistaken by the criminal groups fighting for control of the region” for rivals, Durazo said.
The intense attack caused at least one vehicle to burst into flames, images provided to media outlets showed.
The first security forces units did not arrive on the scene until about three hours after the attack, a delay that federal officials blamed on the remote location where the incident occurred.
Officials did not provide a final death toll until the early hours of Tuesday, confirming that nine people were killed and six others wounded.
“Three adults and five children” were taken to a hospital in the region early Tuesday, Durazo said.
A few hours later, the wounded Mormons, who are US citizens, were transported to a hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, where they are being treated.
Durazo said that Julian LeBaron, an activist and relative of the victims, told officials that the attack was likely not aimed at the family or related to a family conflict.
The citizens safety and protection secretary told reporters that “serious advances” were being made in the investigation of the massacre.
Durazo, however, did not provide many details about the criminal organizations fighting for control of the region, but he said that the Pacific cartel has a strong presence in the area, especially in Sonora.
Mexican officials sometimes refer to the Sinaloa cartel, the oldest drug cartel in the country, as the Pacific cartel.
The cartel may be using some of its cells based in Chihuahua to take control of the region, resulting in clashes with rival gangs, Durazo said.
US President Donald Trump responded to the massacre on social media, offering to help Mexico fight the drug cartels.
“A wonderful family and friends from Utah got caught between two vicious drug cartels, who were shooting at each other, with the result being many great American people killed, including young children, and some missing,” Trump said in a Twitter post.
The US president offered his Mexican counterpart, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, military assistance in fighting Mexico’s drug cartels.
“This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth. We merely await a call from your great new president!” Trump tweeted.
Trump said that if the Mexican government asked for assistance “in cleaning out these monsters,” Washington “stands ready, willing & able to get involved and do the job quickly and effectively.
Lopez Obrador, for his part, said Mexico had to get the job done against the drug cartels blamed for much of the violence in the country.
“This is a matter that we must deal with. The government of Mexico, in an independent manner and making its sovereignty count,” Lopez Obrador, the founder and leader of the leftist National Regeneration Movement (Morena), said during his daily press conference at the National Palace.
Lopez Obrador, popularly known as AMLO, said he had not yet read Trump’s tweets, telling reporters that he appreciated the efforts of the United States and “any foreign government” that wanted to “cooperate and help” in fighting violence.
In response to a question about Trump’s offer of military aid, AMLO said that Mexico must “act with independence and sovereignty.”
The Mexican leader said he planned to speak with Trump to thank him for the offer of assistance.
“To deal with these cases, we do not need the intervention of a foreign government, all of this is said in a very respectful way,” AMLO said.
The LeBarons are a Mormon family that arrived in Chihuahua, a sprawling state in northern Mexico, around 1925 after breaking with church leaders over the issue of polygamy.
In Mexico, the LeBarons founded a settlement and the Church of the Firstborn, a Mormon fundamentalist church that evolved from the Latter Day Saint movement.