LA MORA RANCH, Mexico – The recent death of nine Mormons in an ambush is just the latest in a series of tragedies to hit the community of the village of La Morita in the Mexican state of Sonora, which has forced some members to consider seeking shelter in neighboring United States as they face growing threats from organized crime.
Violence has been a constant threat for the community and before the horrific attack on Monday, they had already lost two other people who went out to get supplies and never returned, former mayor of the city of Bavispe Adam Langford told EFE.
“Their car was stolen, they were killed, they went missing, they were robbed of 80,000 pesos ($4,188) meant for buying petrol. The crime remained unpunished,” Langford said.
However, the community’s troubles reached a peak earlier this week when three women and six children were killed and five people injured in a shooting spree by hitmen allegedly linked to organized crime.
After the massacre, many Mormon families have said that they no longer feel safe in Mexico, including some residents in La Morita, who have decided to move to Europe or the US.
Another sizable group of Mormons is thinking of permanently leaving their current territory in Mexico, situated between the states of Chihuahua and Sonora.
“We believe we are individually responsible for ensuring our freedom, as we live surrounded by armed persons, with latest American rifles, while we are not even allowed to carry anything defend ourselves,” said Julian LeBaron, a resident.
Bavispe residents warned that an exodus of Mormons from the communities of La Morita, Le Baron and Galeana would affect all people in the region as they enjoyed good relations with the neighbors, generating employment and boosting the economy.
In an attempt to counter the locals’ perception of a climate of impunity, the government of Sonora has urged the Attorney General’s office to formally seek the help of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.
If charges of organized crime and the use of arms exclusively reserved for the military are invoked, the Federal Attorney General’s office would be put in charge of the case.
Sonora Governor Claudia Arellano said she had accepted help from US authorities after meeting US Ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey.
The two US functionaries offered to collaborate on the case within the framework of the Mexican constitution and Sonora state’s public prosecutor, Claudia Contreras, was asked to sign a collaboration agreement with the US so that the neighboring country’s authorities could join the investigation.
Although Mexican authorities have maintained that the massacre was a case of mistaken identity by one of the criminal groups fighting with each other for control of the region, Adrian LeBaron, a family member of the victims, alleged that the killings were meant to “leave a message.”
“It was not an attack against us, but there was no confusion. They wanted to send a message to someone and used our family for that,” he told reporters.
Answering questions over the killings, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said an investigating team had been formed to ensure justice and it was studying “all hypotheses.”
“Nothing has been ruled out, they are working and collecting information,” the president said, adding that a “special team” had been formed to take charge of the probe.