At least nine U.S. citizens, including six children, were killed in a massacre in the Mexican border state of Sonora Monday, a relative to many of the victims told NBC News.
The dead included 8-month-old twins, said the family member, Kendra Lee Miller. Some of the eight survivors, all of whom are children, sustained serious injuries. Miller said a 9-month-old child was shot in the chest and a 4-year-old was shot in the back.
The attack was described by local media as a highway ambush. Willie Jessop, who is related to one victim, told NBC News by phone from Utah that the attack occurred on a motorcade consisting of several families, and that survivors at the scene told him that three cars were shot at and one was set on fire.
“Everyone is in so much shock,” Jessop said, adding that he has been in contact with Mexican federal officials and with the FBI. “It’s just unbelievable and there’s just no way to comprehend it.”
The victims were identified by Miller as Christina Marie Langford Johnson, 29, Dawna Langford, 43, and Trevor Langford, 11, and Rogan Langford, two-and-a-half.
Also killed were Rhonita Miller, 30, Howard Miller, 12, Krystal Miller, 10, and 8-month-old twins, Titus and Tiana Miller.
Miller, the relative of the victims, recounted dramatic details from the young survivors. She said Devin Langford, 13, escaped uninjured and then walked for about 14 miles to La Mora for help after hiding his wounded siblings in bushes and covering them with branches.
A bullet grazed Mckenzie Langford, 9, in the arm but she also went to find help after Devin did not come back. Miller said Mckenzie got lost and walked for hours in the dark before she was found by search parties.
Miller said Rhonita Miller was on her way to a shopping trip in Arizona with her family and the others were going to Chihuahua to visit family when the attack happened. The victims lived in La Mora, Miller said, which is about 75 miles south of the U.S. border. The community is descended from Mormon settlers, and some members are still practicing members of the church.
There was no immediate indication of who was behind the attack.
El Universal, one of Mexico’s largest newspapers, quoted other relatives as saying that members of a Mormon family were killed in what appeared to be an organized crime ambush.
El Universal reported that a large group of family members were traveling to La Mora, in the Bavispe municipality of Sonora, when they were ambushed.
The attack comes amid a wave of violence in Mexico in recent weeks, shocking even for a country used to more than a decade of intense drug war violence. The most notable incident was a military-style cartel assault that forced the government to release a leader of the Sinaloa Cartel in October.
Mexico’s national civil defense agency confirmed that elements of the National Guard, the army and the state police were conducting a search operation in Bavispe on Monday night in response to the reports. It provided no other information.
The U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau said in a tweet in Spanish that “the safety of our fellow citizens is our top priority. I am closely following the situation in the mountains between Sonora and Chihuahua.”
Landau, who earlier in the day said he was on his way to Sonora “for my first visit to the northeast of Mexico,” did not share details of the incident. The U.S. State Department also said it was aware of the reports but had no further comment.
Claudia Pavlovich Arellano, the governor of Sonora, said on Twitter late Monday that “as a mother,” she was filled with deep pain by ” the cowardly acts in the mountains between Sonora and Chihuahua .”
“I don’t know what kind of monsters dare to hurt women and children,” Pavlovich said.
Senator for Sonora, Lilly Téllez, said on Twitter “the massacre in Sonora cannot go unpunished.”
Manuel Añorve Baños, another Mexican senator, called what happened “a despicable, merciless and savage act” in a tweet, adding: “We demand justice.”