After watching his mother and brothers die in a drug cartel ambush, a 13-year-old boy walked about 14 miles through a remote, mountainous area of northern Mexico on Monday to find help, according to an account of the attack.
Devin Blake Langford reportedly walked for six hours to get back to the hamlet of La Mora, in Sonora state, carrying the first news anyone would hear about the massacre that left three women and six children dead, and wounded several others.
“They were ambushed by the Mexican cartels; shot, burned, and murdered in cold blood,” Kendra Lee Miller, a sister-in-law of one of the deceased women wrote on Facebook. “These were innocent civilians, American citizens simply trying to live peaceful lives.”
The three mothers who died in the attack set out on Monday morning in three large SUVs, with 14 children between them. They may have gotten caught in the middle of a turf war between rival drug cartels, Mexican officials told The Associated Press.
The vehicles were ambushed by assailants linked to the Juarez drug cartel, according to the AP. One car was found riddled with bullets and destroyed by fire. The remains of five passengers ― including two 8-month-old twins ― were turned to ashes, Miller wrote. The two other cars were reportedly found about 10 miles away.
Devin Blake Langford’s mother and two younger brothers were reportedly shot dead in the attack. Six of his siblings survived, most of them wounded. Devin, who was uninjured, apparently helped his siblings hide in the bushes and covered them with branches while he went to seek help from relatives in La Mora.
When he took too long to return, his 14-year-old sister Kylie Evelyn Langford, who had apparently been shot in the foot, sent out a 9-year-old sibling, Mckenzie Rayne Langford, to try again, Miller wrote. Mckenzie, whom Miller said was grazed on the arm by a bullet, apparently got lost and wandered for about four hours alone in the dark.
After Devin reached La Mora, his relatives reportedly tried to find the hidden children but were held back by cartel gunfire in the area. Later joined by soldiers and other rescuers, the relatives were finally able to reach the children at about 7:30 p.m., Miller wrote.
It took another two hours for search parties to find Mckenzie.
Rescuers found 7-month-old Faith Marie Johnson uninjured in the third car. The baby’s car seat had been placed on the floor of the SUV, apparently by her mother, Christina Marie Langford Johnson. The mother’s body was found about 15 yards away from the car, the AP reports, suggesting that she may have moved away from the vehicle to distract the shooters.
Five of the eight children who survived the attack were flown in helicopters to the U.S. for treatment, including an 8-year-old child who was shot in the jaw, and an infant about 9-months old who was shot in the chest. Mexican authorities told the AP that the children were in stable condition when they were transferred. The other three uninjured children are being cared for by family members in La Mora.
The victims are descendants of fundamentalist Mormons who separated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 1870s and 1880s after it officially banned polygamy. The breakaway group established remote, agricultural communities in Sonora and Chihuahua states, near the U.S.-Mexico border. Many descendants hold dual American-Mexican citizenship and travel frequently across the border to visit family members. Some still practice polygamy, while others say they have joined the mainstream church.
The community in La Mora ran a successful pecan farming operation, a relative told the AP.
This isn’t the first time fundamentalist Mormons in Mexico have been targeted by drug cartels. A Mormon activist named Benjamin LeBaron ― who was apparently an extended relative of Monday’s victims ― was killed in 2009 after speaking out against drug traffickers who had kidnapped his brother, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda told CNN that there have also been longstanding tensions between Mormons and drug cartels in northern Mexico over water rights.
“Cartels have taken too many of our family members,” Miller told CNN.
This story has been updated with information about a possible suspect.