Loretta Miller lost several grandchildren in the massacre miles up the road from her remote Mormon community in Mexico. Her job lately has been to comfort several other grandchildren who remain.
Miller and the rest of La Mora — a community of hundreds of American-Mexican dual citizens in northwestern Mexico’s Sonora state — are mourning the three women and six children who were gunned down Monday by unidentified assailants as they drove in the mountainous area.
Miller is a grandmother to more than a dozen — four of whom were children who died in Monday’s attack. Her home has been a refuge for the rest.
“All our grandkids have slept here for three nights,” Miller, sitting at her dining room table, told reporters there Wednesday.
Someone entered the home with a gift of cinnamon buns. Miller cut the pastries, offering pieces to some grandchildren who were sitting with her.
“The kids are jumpy. … They’re having a hard time,” Miller says. “I’ve been trying to keep the family calm.”
Mexican security forces, too, are trying to reassure La Mora, settled decades ago by US Mormons who had crossed the border hoping to practice their religion more freely.
Numerous Mexican security personnel, including state police and military soldiers, have moved into the area. Some have set up checkpoints on roads leading to the remote enclave, which sits in a valley in dry mountainous terrain miles from the nearest town, Bavispe.
Others have set up at the entrances of La Mora and Bavispe, or were patrolling La Mora’s dirt streets themselves. On Wednesday, dozens of troops were spread throughout La Mora.
Funerals for the nine victims were expected to begin in the enclave on Thursday.
‘We want them brought to justice’
Eight other children survived the assault on the three-vehicle convoy, including a baby found in hidden in one car, and a 13-year-old boy who walked for hours back to La Mora to seek help. Many of the children were injured and were taken to the United States for treatment.
Mexican authorities say they believe drug cartel members, long a driver of violence in the country, committed the massacre. The attack is under investigation; no arrests were immediately made, and a motive wasn’t known.
Kendra Lee Miller, who lost her sister-in-law Rhonita Miller in the attack, said cartels had recently threatened her family over where they can travel.
Julian LeBaron, a La Mora resident and a first cousin to Rhonita Miller, said the community wants answers.
“We’ve been around here for many years, and we see the armed people all the time and they leave us alone, really,” he told CNN in La Mora on Wednesday.
“We want the truth. We want to (know) who did it, we want to know why, and we want them brought to justice.”
While the victims had different last names, they all have ties to an extended LeBaron family in Mexico. That family, especially in neighboring Chihuahua state, has had deadly brushes with cartel members in the past.
In 2009, a member of the LeBaron family living in Chihuahua state was abducted and returned unharmed a week later. His brother, Benjamin LeBaron, became an anti-crime activist. But Benjamin LeBaron and his brother-in-law were killed two months later.
Across Mexico, the number of killings has soared in recent years. In 2018, Mexico suffered its highest number of homicides — 33,000. And 2019 is on course to break that record.