Families Of Mexican Massacre Victims Express Gratitude, Concern Over Cartel Terrorist Designation

By Kendal Blust, Murphy Woodhouse
Published: Thursday, November 28, 2019 - 5:05am
Updated: Thursday, November 28, 2019 - 9:32am

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Mourners at the funeral
Murphy Woodhouse/KJZZ
Mourners at the funeral for three victims of the massacre in northeastern Sonora on Nov. 7, 2019.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump told former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly's that he’s 90 days into the process of designating Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations.

“I don’t want to say what I want to do. But they will be designated,” the president said.

For some family members of the nine women and children murdered near the rural Sonoran community of La Mora in early November, it’s an answer to their pleas.

“There’s no justice in Mexico right now. And the worst part is that organized criminals, these terrorists, these cartels, they no longer fear the law,” said Bryan LeBaron, who sent a petition to the White House asking for the designation. “There is no line that they’re not willing to cross. And we felt that they needed to be designated as the terrorists that they are.”

LeBaron, who lives in California, is a member of this offshoot Mormon community in Sonora and Chihuahua. The Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not recognize these groups as members of its church.

La Mora Mourns
Kendal Blust/KJZZ
An old sign marks the intersection for the road the ambushed vehicles took.

He said he sent the petition on behalf of a majority of his family in the U.S. and Mexico, who want to see the United States get involved in the fight against drug cartels, calling it an international crisis.

“And the only way to solve it is for both governments, Mexico and the United States to work together,” he said.

He sees the terrorist designation as a tool in that fight that could bring resources to Mexico and pressure the government to act.

But Mexican leaders have expressed alarm at Trump’s comments, and some see it as a threat to the country’s sovereignty.

“Half of Mexico right now is saying that the LeBaron family is a bunch of traitors, 'Go back to America if you don’t like it,'" LeBaron said. “It’s not easy. It’s never easy to take a stand. But we have to be brave. We have to stand for what we believe in.”

LeBaron said he wants to see the U.S. and Mexico work together in a way that respects the sovereignty of both nations but also guarantees the safety of people on both sides of the border.

“Absolutely the sovereignty of Mexico has to be respected,” he said. “But we cannot sit back and continue to watch innocent people die. We cannot let our family have died in vain.”

Not The Way Forward

Some family members, however, are concerned that the terrorist designation won’t help, and could actually hurt an ongoing, binational investigation. 

“The whole thing is being taken, and almost used for a bigger agenda. And I would like due process to come forth out of this,” said Matthew Langford, whose sister Christina Johnson Langford, was one of three women killed in the attack near his longtime home in La Mora. “The Mexican government has been doing their job, they’ve been extremely, extremely kind to us, and they’ve been nothing but willing, and doing their part. And same with the FBI.”

La Mora Massacre
Murphy Woodhouse/KJZZ
Family carried the coffins to three waiting trucks after the first funeral ceremony.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been assisting on the case since being invited by the Mexican government a few weeks ago. Beyond complicating that collaboration, Langford thinks calling cartels terrorists could increase instability in Mexico during an already tense time. A dual U.S.-Mexican citizen, he said there are also possible threats to the sovereignty of Mexico, where he was born.

But his concerns don’t mean he thinks there’s nothing the United States can do.

“Every bullet that was fired upon our family, were Remington shells. So (they're) coming across the border from the United States,” he added. “So why don’t we start investigating how all this ammunition is coming to Mexico, unlimited supply of ammunition, and arms to these cartels? In other words, the problem exists on both sides of the border ... and there’s a lot that can be done on the US side that would help immensely.”

He understands that many of those impacted want justice, and they want it fast. But a proper investigation takes time, and he doesn’t think that Mexican and U.S. authorities need any new labels to achieve justice.

“To designate ‘em as terrorists, in my personal opinion, I don’t believe that’s the way forward,” he said. 

La Mora Mourns
Kendal Blust/KJZZ
La Mora sits in the middle of a river valley lined on both sides with towering, rugged peaks.
La Mora Massacre
Murphy Woodhouse/KJZZ
La Mora is small town surrounded by pecan and fruit trees in a beautiful river valley.
Family members carry a casket toward the ceremony
Murphy Woodhouse/KJZZ
Family members carry a casket toward the ceremony on Nov. 7, 2019, for three of those killed in the vicious attack against a small Mormon community in Sonora on Nov. 4, 2019.
La Mora Mourns
Kendal Blust/KJZZ
After finishing their morning chores milking the cows, three boys hopped on an ATV to head home.

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