Two relatives of the Mormon family who were killed in Monday’s ambush murders were killed by drug lords 10 years ago, as part of a pattern of tension between the religious sect and the cartels in the area, according to multiple family members.
According to NBC News, drug cartels kidnapped Benjamin LeBaron — whose cousin Rhonita Miller died in Monday’s attack — in 2009. At the time, witnesses told the L.A. Times that more than 10 gunmen stormed LeBaron’s home, seizing him and his brother-in-law Luis Widmar, who had come to help. The gunmen held both men for ransom and later murdered them.
Kendra Lee Miller, who was Rhonita Miller’s sister-in-law — told CNN that the recent victims are “not the first” to be killed. “Cartels have taken too many of our family members,” she told the outlet, adding that her family has recently been threatened by drug lords over where they can travel.
The most recent victims lived in a Mormon community in northern Mexico, about 100 miles south of the Arizona border. They all left the community at the same time, driving in three separate SUVs. Some of the victims were traveling back to the United States, while others were heading to a neighboring town in Mexico to attend a wedding.
While the convoy of SUVs was driving on a remote road, they were ambushed and sprayed with gunfire. According to CBS News, the gunmen shot so many bullets that at least one of the SUVs exploded. Three women and six children were killed.
Kendra Lee Miller tells NBC News that 8-month old twins were killed in the attack. Eight children survived, Miller says. Some of the survivors are seriously wounded, including a 9-month-old who was shot in the chest and a 4-year-old shot in the back.
On Wednesday, authorities announced that a suspect has been arrested in Mexico near the Arizona border in connection with the in connection with the ambush.
In a statement on its Facebook page, the Agency for Criminal Investigation in the state of Sonora said that the suspect — whose name, age, and sex were not released — was found in the town of Agua Prieta, right across the border from Douglas, Arizona.
According to the statement, the suspect was holding two bound and gagged hostages inside a vehicle. Investigators also found four assault rifles and a bulletproof SUV, authorities say.
“A person was arrested in possession of two .223 long guns, a .308 long gun, ten .223 caliber magazines, a .308 full magazine and a 50-gauge Barrett long rifle,” the agency’s statement said in Spanish. “We are investigating the possibility that the person who was arrested had participated in these terrible events.”
No information has been released about the hostages found inside the vehicle.
The victims of Monday’s attack include Christina Marie Langford Johnson, 29; Dawna Langford, 43; Trevor Langford, 11; and Rogan Langford, 2. Also killed were Rhonita Miller, 30; Howard Miller, 12; Krystal Miller, 10; and the 8-month-old twins, Titus and Tiana Miller.
Relatives of the family initially told multiple news outlets that they believe the attack was a case of mistaken identity by drug cartel gunmen. Authorities have not publicly released the motive.
Both Mexican and U.S. government officials have vowed to find the people responsible for the murders. The FBI has joined Mexican officials in investigating the brutal killings.
As of Wednesday afternoon, a GoFundMe set up for the family had raised more than $102,000.