At least 9 U.S. citizens die in cartel attack in north Mexico

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Drug cartel gunmen ambushed three SUVs along a dirt road, slaughtering at least six children and three women — all of them U.S. citizens living in northern Mexico — in a grisly attack that left one of their vehicles a burned-out, bullet-riddled hulk, authorities said Tuesday.

The dead included 8-month-old twins. At least five other youngsters were wounded by gunfire.

Mexican Security Secretary Alfonso Durazo said the attackers may have mistaken the group's large SUVs for those of rival gangs.

But all of the victims were believed to be members of the extended LeBaron family, who live in a decades-old settlement founded by an offshoot of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and have run afoul of the drug traffickers over the years. A LeBaron was killed a decade ago after denouncing the cartels.

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9 Americans killed in drug cartel shooting in Mexico
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9 Americans killed in drug cartel shooting in Mexico
TOPSHOT - Members of the Lebaron family mourn while they watch the burned car where part of the nine murdered members of the family were killed and burned during an gunmen ambush on Bavispe, Sonora mountains, Mexico, on November 5, 2019. - US President Donald Trump offered Tuesday to help Mexico "wage war" on its cartels after three women and six children from an American Mormon community were murdered in an area notorious for drug traffickers. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
Map locates the site of the cartel killings of at least nine US citizens in the Mexican state of Sonoma;
A member of the Lebaron family looks at the burned car where part of the nine murdered members of the family were killed and burned during an ambush in Bavispe, Sonora mountains, Mexico, on November 5, 2019. - US President Donald Trump offered on November 5 to help Mexico "wage war" on its cartels after three women and six children from an American Mormon community were murdered in an area notorious for drug traffickers. (Photo by HERIKA MARTINEZ / AFP) (Photo by HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP via Getty Images)
This frame from Nov. 4, 2019, video by Kenny Miller and posted on the Twitter account of Alex LeBaron shows a burned-out vehicle that was being used by some members of the LeBaron family as they were driving in a convoy near the Sonora-Chihuahua border in Mexico. Mexican authorities say drug cartel gunmen ambushed multiple vehicles, including this one, slaughtering several women and children. (Kenny Miller/Courtesy of Alex LeBaron via AP)
This frame from Nov. 4, 2019, video by Kenny Miller and posted on the Twitter account of Alex LeBaron shows a burned-out vehicle that was being used by some members of the LeBaron family as they were driving in a convoy near the Sonora-Chihuahua state border in Mexico. Mexican authorities say drug cartel gunmen ambushed multiple vehicles, including this one, slaughtering several women and children. (Kenny Miller/Courtesy of Alex LeBaron via AP)
People stand near the burned car where part of the nine murdered members of the Lebaron family were killed and burned during an ambush in Bavispe, Sonora mountains, Mexico, on November 5, 2019. - US President Donald Trump offered on November 5 to help Mexico "wage war" on its cartels after three women and six children from an American Mormon community were murdered in an area notorious for drug traffickers. (Photo by Herika MARTINEZ / AFP) / The erroneous mention appearing in the metadata of this photo has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: byline should read [Herika MARTINEZ] instead of [STRINGER]. Please immediately remove the erroneous mention from all your online services and delete it from your servers. If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it to third parties, please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them. Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage. Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action. We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require. (Photo by HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP via Getty Images)
This photo shows a view of the car where part of the nine murdered members of the LeBaron family were killed during an ambush in Bavispe, Sonora mountains, Mexico, on November 5, 2019. - US President Donald Trump offered on November 5 to help Mexico "wage war" on its cartels after three women and six children from an American Mormon community were murdered in an area notorious for drug traffickers. (Photo by Herika MARTINEZ / AFP) / The erroneous mention appearing in the metadata of this photo has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: byline should read [Herika MARTINEZ] instead of [STRINGER]. Please immediately remove the erroneous mention from all your online services and delete it from your servers. If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it to third parties, please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them. Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage. Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action. We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require. (Photo by HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP via Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Members of the Lebaron family look at the burned car where part of the nine murdered members of the family were killed and burned during an ambush in Bavispe, Sonora mountains, Mexico, on November 5, 2019. - US President Donald Trump offered on November 5 to help Mexico "wage war" on its cartels after three women and six children from an American Mormon community were murdered in an area notorious for drug traffickers. (Photo by HERIKA MARTINEZ / AFP) (Photo by HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP via Getty Images)
Mexican Secretary of Foreign Relations Marcelo Ebrard is pictured in the place where members of the Lebaron family were killed and burned during an gunmen ambush on Bavispe, Sonora mountains, Mexico, on November 5, 2019. - US President Donald Trump offered Tuesday to help Mexico "wage war" on its cartels after three women and six children from an American Mormon community were murdered in an area notorious for drug traffickers. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
Chihuahua state police officers man a checkpoint in Janos, Chihuahua state, northern Mexico, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. Drug cartel gunmen ambushed three SUVs along a dirt road, slaughtering six children and three women, all U.S. citizens living in northern Mexico, in a grisly attack that left one vehicle a burned-out, bullet-riddled hulk, authorities said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez)
A car passes through Colonia LeBaron, one of many locations where the extended LeBaron family lives in the Galeana municipality of Chihuahua state in northern Mexico, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. Drug cartel gunmen ambushed on Monday three vehicles along a road near the state border of Chihuahua and Sonora, slaughtering at least six children and three women from the extended LeBaron family, all of them U.S. citizens living in northern Mexico, authorities said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez)
In this photo provided by the Sonora state Health Secretary, children of the extended LeBaron family, who were injured in an ambush are taken aboard a Mexican Airforce helicopter to be flown to the Mexico-U.S. border, from the border between the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sonora, Monday, Nov.4, 2019. The children were injured when drug cartel gunmen ambushed three SUVs along a dirt road, slaughtering six children and three women, all U.S. citizens living in northern Mexico, in a grisly attack that left one vehicle a burned-out, bullet-riddled hulk. (Sonora state Health Secretary via AP)
People walk into the emergency room at the hospital treating some of the children injured in an ambush on members of the American Mormon community near the US-Mexico border, in Tucson, Arizona, on November 5, 2019. - Gunmen ambushed the members of the LeBaron family -- a large clan of Mormons who emigrated to Mexico in the late 19th century -- on a rural road on November 4, between the states of Sonora and Chihuahua, which border the United States. US President Donald Trump offered on November 5 to help Mexico "wage war" on its cartels after three women and six children from an American Mormon community were murdered in an area notorious for drug traffickers. (Photo by Sébastien VUAGNAT / AFP) (Photo by SEBASTIEN VUAGNAT/AFP via Getty Images)
Madelyn Staddon, right, a relative of some of the members of a Mormon community who were attacked while traveling near the US-Mexico border, embraces a neighbor outside her home, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, in Queen Creek, Ariz. Drug cartel gunmen ambushed three vehicles along a road near the state border of Chihuahua and Sonora on Monday, slaughtering at least six children and three women from the extended LeBaron family, all of them U.S. citizens living in northern Mexico, authorities said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Austin Cloes points to a photo of relatives Rhonita Miller and her family, who were killed in Mexico, on a computer screen Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, in Herriman, Utah. Drug cartel gunmen ambushed three SUVs along a dirt road, slaughtering at least six children and three women all of them U.S. citizens living in northern Mexico in a grisly attack that left one vehicle a burned-out, bullet-riddled hulk, authorities said Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
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In a tweet, President Donald Trump immediately offered to help Mexico "wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth." But Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador rejected that approach, saying his predecessors waged war, "and it didn't work."

A relative said the victims lived in the hamlet of La Mora in Sonora state, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) south of Douglas, Arizona. A number of extended Mormon families live in farming communities clustered around the Chihuahua-Sonora state border. Many members were born in Mexico and thus have dual citizenship. While some of the splinter groups were once polygamous, many no longer are.

The group was attacked Monday while traveling in a convoy of three SUVs toward Pancho Villa, in Chihuhua. The relative asked not to be named for fear of reprisals.

The relative said he had located the burned-out SUV containing the remains of his nephew's wife and her four children — the twin babies and two other children. Authorities said the Chevy Tahoe's gas tank had apparently been hit by gunfire and exploded.

"The mafia vehicles got her and four of her kids and ... burnt them to a crisp," said the relative.

Two women and two other children were later found dead.

The six children killed were 8 months old, 2½, 10, 11 and 12, according to family members.

"The United States stands ready, willing & able to get involved and do the job quickly and effectively," 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!

But Mexico's president said: "The worst thing you can have is war."

It was the second failure in recent weeks for López Obrador's "hugs not bullets" anti-crime strategy. Two weeks ago, Mexican forces seized a son of the imprisoned drug lord known as El Chapo but had to release him after cartel henchmen launched a furious counterattack in Culiacan, Sinaloa.

The prosecutor's office in Sonora state gave a description of the crime scene on the Sonora-Chihuahua border. They said police first found the burned-out Chevy Tahoe with the five dead. About 11 miles (18 kilometers) up the mountainous dirt road, they found a Suburban with a dead woman and two dead children inside. Farther on, they found a second Suburban and, about 15 yards (meters) away, the body of a woman.

Police found a total of about 200 spent shell casings from assault rifles and other weapons at the various crime scenes.

"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 wrote.

The relative said: "We're guessing right now, but we believe it was a case of mistaken identity. They just opened fire on the vehicle because it was an SUV."

Durazo said the Sinaloa cartel had an important presence on the Sonora side, but that a rival gang was trying to invade the territory from the Chihuahua side.

The relative said he saw cartel gunmen gathered about a mile away after the ambush. "There were probably 50 or 60 of them, armed to the teeth," he said.

A suspect was detained near Agua Prieta, the prosecutor's office said, but it was unclear whether the person had taken part in the ambush. The suspect had assault rifles and a .50-caliber sniper rifle and was holding two bound kidnap victims, authorities said.

It was not the first time that members of the breakaway church had been attacked in northern Mexico. In 2009, Benjamin LeBaron, an anti-crime activist who was related to those killed on Monday, was slain in 2009 in Chihuahua state.

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