U.S. child survivors of Mexico ambush saved by courage, mother

GALEANA, Mexico (AP) — The eight children, some mere infants, who survived the ambush in northern Mexico not only escaped the drug cartel gunmen who killed their mothers but managed to hide in the brush, with some walking miles to get help despite grisly bullet wounds.

In a testament to a mother's devotion, one woman reportedly stashed her baby 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; her bullet-ridden body was found about 15 yards (meters) away from the SUV.

The mother was one of nine U.S. citizens — three women and six children all living in northern Mexico — slaughtered Monday when cartel gunmen ambushed three SUVs along a dirt road in an attack that left one vehicle a burned-out, bullet-riddled hulk. Mexican officials said the gunmen may have mistaken the group's large SUVs for those of a rival gang amid a vicious turf war.

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 the tiny hamlet of La Mora in northern Mexico.

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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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But 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 Blake Langford, 13, was one of the few uninjured young people and quickly took charge, eventually walking about 14 miles (22.5 kilometers) 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 1:00 p.m., when the ambush began, until about 7:30 p.m., 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.

Cody Greyson Langford, 8, had been shot in the jaw and bled profusely. Another girl had been shot in the foot and the back.

The killers were apparently members of the Juarez drug cartel and its armed wing, La Linea — "The Line" — whose gunmen had entered Sinaloa cartel territory and set up an armed outpost on a hilltop and an ambush further up the road. 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 was shot up and set afire that 50 or 60 Sinaloa cartel gunmen showed up to see what had happened.

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 dead in the attacks included a mother, her 8-month-old twins, her 10-year-old daughter, a 12-year-old son. Another mother lay dead in the front seat of another Suburban, along with the bullet-riddled bodies of her sons, ages 11 and 2.

The victims lived in Sonora state, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) 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 to visit relatives in Chihuahua. One woman was headed to the airport in Phoenix to meet her husband.

While a drug-related violence has been raging for years in Mexico, the attack underscored the way cartel gunmen have become increasingly unconcerned about killing children as collateral damage. In August in Chihuahua state, cartel gunmen fired 123 bullets at a man and also killed three girls, ages 4, 13 and 14. In June, a young boy was killed along with his father in Sonora state. In July, a 10-year-old was killed during a robbery in Puebla state.

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