By Lizbeth Diaz
BAVISPE, Mexico (Reuters) – An American man whose grandchildren were slain in a massacre in Mexico demanded justice for other victims of the country’s drug war on Thursday, as hundreds of relatives gathered from across the United States to honor the victims.
Kenneth Miller lost his daughter-in-law and four grandchildren, all dual citizens, in an ambush in the northern border state of Sonora on Monday that killed nine people.
The attack on members of breakaway Mormon communities that settled in Mexico decades ago prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to urge Mexico and the United States to “wage war” together on the drug cartels.
Fighting back tears before the first funeral for the victims, Miller said the family hoped its plight would draw attention to the thousands of victims in Mexico whose cases go unsolved as violence reaches record levels.
“This is happening because we are dual citizens,” Miller said, referring to the Mexican government’s support following the attack. “There are thousands in this country who have never received justice.”
Relatives gathered from both sides of the Mexico-U.S. border, family members said, including from Idaho, Utah, Arizona, North Dakota, Colorado and Iowa.
For those who drove, military and police escorted them in convoys of SUVs and pickup trucks from the border at Douglas, Arizona, for the four-hour drive south, mostly on dirt roads.
At the funeral for Dawna Ray Langford, 43, and her sons Trevor, 11, and Rogan, 2, mourners filled more than 500 chairs facing three simple wooden coffins built by family members.
Many sank their heads into their hands during the ceremony, during which family members delivered eulogies alongside floral displays that spelled out “MOM” in white daisies and “LOVE” in crimson roses.
Dawna’s mother, Karen Woolley, who said she resides in Utah but once lived in Mexico, spoke through tears about the loss of her daughter, one of her seven children.
“I can still hear her talking, saying ‘Hi Mom, good morning!’ You know? She will truly be missed, missed, missed,” she said.
The victims came from prominent local families, including the LeBarons, Millers and Langfords, who turned out in mutual support.
“We came prepared to sleep on the floor, in tents. Whatever is needed to support the families who died in this terrorist act,” said Alex LeBaron, a former Mexican congressman.
His cousin Rhonita Miller, 30, and her four young children, died in the attack, their bodies reduced to ash after their car went up in flames.
Nestled in the fertile valleys of the Sierra Madre mountains just south of the U.S. border, the oldest communities stem from the late 1800s, when upheaval over polygamy in the Utah-based church led to their founding.
The settlements have marriage ties to others in the United States. The LeBarons, who came to Mexico in the early 20th century, now say they have more than 5,000 members.
Authorities and relatives say the killings appeared to be the work of the Juarez and the Sinaloa cartels, which fight for control of lucrative drug routes that run through the sparsely populated mountainous areas into the United States.
Mexico has unleashed its military against cartels since 2006, but failed to reduce violence. Instead, the campaign has led to more killings as criminal groups splinter and fight among themselves.
(Reporting by Jose Luis Gonzalez and Lizbeth Diaz; Additional reporting by Noe Torres and Andrew Hay; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel and Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Leslie Adler, Jonathan Oatis and Daniel Wallis)