By Lizbeth Diaz and Andrew Hay
MEXICOCITY/ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (Reuters) – More than 100 members of a U.S.-Mexican community of Mormon origin have left their homes in northern Mexico after an ambush killed nine of their number, relatives said on Tuesday.
Since the massacre last week of three mothers and six children by suspected cartel gunmen, families have been streaming out of La Mora, a remote farming village in the state of Sonora, said Taylor Langford, a relative of the victims. He estimated that around 150 people had left the village, representing about 60% of the local residents.
Some of the members were leaving temporarily, others permanently, but almost all would return if security were better, said Langford, 27, who grew up in La Mora and now lives in Utah.
“It’s devastating, it’s a horrible feeling that our life’s work, our life’s savings can be taken from us like that,” said Langford, who was raised in the community, which was built from the ground-up over three generations. “A lot of us are at the point where we’ll leave it, we’ll abandon it all for the safety of our families.”
The women and children were killed after coming under fire on a remote dirt road east of La Mora, which lies 80 miles (130 km) south of the U.S.-Mexico border, as they drove in three vehicles toward the neighbouring state of Chihuahua.
Three Mexicans who work with families in La Mora said only four of the community’s 34 homes remain occupied.
Those who left are staying in the United States with family and friends or in a few cases, second homes.
Howard Miller, husband of Rhonita Miller LeBaron, one of the mothers killed in the attack, headed to North Dakota to be with family there, according to Rhonita’s father, Adrian LeBaron.
Langford said his family has a strong presence in both the Phoenix area of Arizona and around Salt Lake City, Utah.
Some leaving La Mora are going to Colonia LeBaron, a larger community with more resources and security in neighbouring Chihuahua state, said Julian LeBaron, a relative of the victims.
After the massacre, U.S. President Donald Trump offered Mexico help in wiping out drug gangs. Mexico accepted, asking the Federal Bureau of Investigation to assist with the probe.
When asked about reports that a convoy of several dozen FBI vehicles had entered Mexico, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told a news conference that some experts were working in ballistics, and others were likely at work on other aspects of the case.
Ebrard said Mexico turned to the FBI due the victims’ dual citizenship. The cooperation is also an opportunity for Mexico to check the origin of the guns used in the attack, he said.
The U.S. agents must work in tandem with their Mexican counterparts and will not be armed.
(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Albuquerque, N.M., and Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City; writing by Julia Love)