Editor's note 11/5 5:00 p.m.: This story has been updated.
At least nine members of a Mormon family — three mothers and six small children — were gunned down and killed in broad daylight near where they live in northern Mexico, according to U.S. and Mexican officials. Two of the children were infants.
Family members have speculated the LeBarons, fundamentalist Mormons who settled in Mexico decades ago, were ambushed by cartel shooters on Monday on a dirt road near the town of Bavispe, on the border of Chihuahua and Sonora. Willie Jessop, a relative of many of the victims, told NBC News that the group was traveling in a three-car caravan of SUVS when they were gunned down.
“Everyone is in so much shock,” said Jessop, who also told NBC that he has been in touch with Mexican officials and the FBI. “It’s just unbelievable, and there’s just no way to comprehend it.”
Most of the victims held dual Mexican and U.S. citizenship, and eight people survived the attack, according to Mexico's Security Minister. Seven of the survivors have been sent to hospitals in Phoenix, Arizona, according to CNN.
Footage the family says is from the scene shows an entirely burned-out car riddled with bullet holes. Kenny LeBaron, a cousin of a woman driving in the caravan traveling between the Chihuahua and Sonora states, told the New York Times he worried the death toll could rise.
“When you know there are babies tied in a car seat that are burning because of some twisted evil that’s in this world,” he said, “it’s just hard to cope with that.”
It’s unclear why the LeBarons were attacked, but Mexican officials suggested the tragedy could be a case of mistaken identity: A drug cartel could have confused the LeBarons’ vehicles for a drug cartel convoy.
But the family has been targeted for speaking out against cartels in the past, and one relative was kidnapped for ransom in 2009. He was released after the community decided not to pay the ransom, but two other members of the LeBaron family were later kidnapped and killed in retribution.
President Donald Trump claimed on Twitter that the family “got caught between two vicious drug cartels, who were shooting at each other.”
“If Mexico needs or requests help in cleaning out these monsters, the United States stands ready, willing & able to get involved and do the job quickly and effectively,” he added.
The Juarez and Sinaloa cartels both control territory in the state of Chihuahua, but Kendra Lee Miller, who’s related to many of the victims of the attack, told The Daily Beast that there was no shootout.
“There was not ongoing battle or gunfire or anything at that point when these women went over this road,” Miller said. “They went over peacefully, the day was peaceful and they were ambushed and attacked.”
The state governments of Chihuahua and Sonora said they have launched an investigation and that additional security personnel were being sent to the region. The FBI has reportedly offered to help Mexican authorities with the investigation.
Cover: Twitter/Alex LeBaron