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Relatives of massacre victims speak out

Bullet-ridden SUVs sit on a road near Bavispe, Sonora, Mexico, on Wednesday. The SUVs were carrying victims of Monday’s attacks. (Christian Chavez/Associated Press)

Chihuahua state police officers man a checkpoint in Janos, Chihuahua, on Wednesday. Drug cartel gunmen ambushed three SUVs along a dirt road Monday, killing six children and three women, all U.S. citizens living in Mexico. (Christian Chavez/Associated Press)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

LAS CRUCES – Relatives on both sides of the border are demanding justice as they prepare to bury women and children killed in an attack in northern Mexico.

“All these women were model women and mothers and friends and part of their community, and these children were just fantastic,” said Jasmin LeBaron Soulesby of Las Cruces, who is related to the victims.

Soulesby said she is focused on helping six children who survived the attack, including five who are hospitalized in Tucson.

“What happened to our family is as bad as it gets, but also this has been happening to just thousands and thousands of Mexicans in Mexico. A lot of them didn’t have a voice like we do right now,” Soulesby said.

The family is speaking out about the massacre in northern Mexico in a lawless region disputed by rival drug cartels in the border states of Sonora and Chihuahua.

“If a nation can’t protect its women and children, it’s no longer a nation,” said Robert LeBaron, reached by phone in his hometown, Colonia LeBaron, Chihuahua, 190 miles south of the border.

“My cousin Christina, she had her 7-month-old baby in the vehicle with her, threw the car seat to the floor when the shooting happened and she actually exited her vehicle, closed the door and ran to the back of it,” LeBaron said. She was shot to death, but the baby girl, Faith, survived and was later found by soldiers strapped into her car seat inside the SUV.

Originally, Mexican authorities said the three mothers were traveling together in a caravan of three SUVs and were likely killed in a case of mistaken identity by rival drug cartels fighting over turf.

But relatives said Wednesday that the women were killed in two locations. One vehicle was riddled with bullets and set on fire before the gunmen went after the other women and children.

After the attack, a 13-year-old boy hid his wounded siblings in bushes while he walked 14 miles to the nearest town to get help, according to relatives.

The grief and outrage over the massacre has spilled across the border where the victims who are dual citizens have strong family ties.

“These are innocent women and children. They absolutely are victims of a heartless situation,” LeBaron said.

Authorities in Mexico said earlier that they had a suspect in custody, but on Wednesday they said the man, who was arrested with assault weapons and two hostages, is not connected to the massacre.

During a visit to the crime scene, Mexican Foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard said the federal government will seek justice for “a respected, beloved, binational community.” He said Mexico will keep U.S. officials informed and involved in the investigation.

That binational community has made its home in northern Mexico for generations. They are members of a fundamentalist offshoot of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that crossed the border when the U.S. outlawed polygamy. Most no longer practice “plural marriage” but built lives in Mexico and go back and forth to the U.S. Many are dual citizens.

President Donald Trump offered to help and tweeted, “This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the U.S., to wage WAR on the drug cartels … ”

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador rejected that offer. During his morning news conference Wednesday, he said, “It’s unfortunate, sad, because children died. This is painful. But trying to resolve this problem by declaring war? In our country, it has been shown that doesn’t work. It was a disaster.” He was referring to efforts by previous presidents to use federal forces to go after drug cartels.

The military will escort members of the extended family of the victims from Colonia LeBaron to Sonora for multiple funerals Thursday. All but three of the victims’ bodies will be returned to LeBaron for burial on Friday.

Soulesby said she won’t be traveling to Mexico for the funerals and instead will focus on helping the surviving children recover from the attack. A GoFundMe account has been set up to help cover some of the medical expenses. One child is recovering from a gunshot wound to the face.

She hopes international attention focused on the attack will lead to action to restore law and order as cartel violence claims more lives.

“There are a lot of family members here in our borderland that know exactly what we’re going through. Just want to say our hearts go out to them,” Soulesby said.

Her relatives in Mexico share that pain and the hope that justice will prevail. “Our prayers are that something good comes from this dark hour and our time of hell,” Robert LeBaron said.