The US citizens shot dead in the crossfire between two rival drug cartels belonged to a breakaway Mormon group that separated from the church after it outlawed polygamous marriages — and has been the target of gang violence in Mexico for at least a decade, reports said.
At least nine members of the LeBaron family — which settled in the hills and plains of northern Mexico nearly a century ago — were killed in the Monday massacre.
Six of them were children.
Mormons of Germanic origin moved from the US to Northern Mexico’s Chihuahua state in the 1920s — breaking away from their mainstream religion, which had banned polygamy, Reuters reported.
A man named Alma Dayer LeBaron launched what he called “Colonia LeBaron” in the region about 70 years ago after having a vision that his multiple descendants would live in peace and prosperity among the pecan orchards they’d plant in the region, The Seattle Times reported in 2009.
But their living situation has been anything but peaceful.
A colony leader, Benjamin LeBaron, 31, was abducted in 2009 by heavily armed men dressed as police, and then was beaten and shot dead, the paper reported. The leader, known as Benji, had denounced the criminals and refused to pay a $1 million ransom demanded by kidnappers who took off with his teen brother from a family ranch two months earlier, according to the report.
“We’re living in a war zone, but it’s a war zone with little kids running all around in the yard,” Julian LeBaron, Benji’s brother, told the paper at the time.
“All we want to do is live in peace,” Marco LeBaron, another brother of the slain leader, told the outlet. “We want nothing to do with the drug cartels. They can’t be stopped. What we want is just to protect ourselves from being kidnapped and killed.
In 2010, two people within the Chihuahua Mormon community — one from the LeBaron family — were killed in apparent revenge after security forces tracked drug gang members.
Most residents of Colonia LeBaron no longer practice polygamy and some swear and drink beer, the Times reported.
The victims of Monday’s attack, who hold dual US-Mexico citizenships, were inside a convoy of SUVs carrying dozens of community members.
At least a dozen others remain missing after the slaughter.
The FBI is investigating, relatives told CBS This Morning.
With Post wires
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