The nine women and children slain on Monday in Mexico were part of a Mormon community with ties to the sex cult NXIVM.
The Mormon community in Mexico is where cult leader Keith Raniere recruited young women to work as nannies in an upstate New York compound run by the cult.
The three mothers and six children were killed in the northern town of Sonora. The murders are thought to be a case of mistaken identity; victims of a drug cartel, which may have mistaken the group’s caravan of three SUVs for rivals, Mexican authorities said Tuesday.
A filmmaker for Raniere used a documentary they were working on to lure the women into service, promising them a new life, and a way out of the violent area they lived in.
The filmmaker working with Raniere at the time, Mark Vicente, told the online magazine Slate that the documentary ultimately became a recruiting video for Nxivm, which purported to be a self-help group but morphed into what the feds called a cult that sexually, physically and emotionally abused its mainly female followers.
The film included an interview with Julian LeBaron, who identified himself as the cousin of one of the moms killed Monday and who is a leader of the Mexico Mormon community. LeBaron’s brother was kidnapped by a local drug cartel in 2009, and the family defiantly refused to pay a ransom. The cartel eventually released the abducted man.-NewYorkTimes
Police confirmed they have arrested a suspected drug lord after the killings which left one vehicle torched and riddled with bullets.
Family members told “CBS This Morning” that the FBI has opened an investigation into the killings. It happened Monday near the town of Bavispe, about 100 miles south of the Arizona border. As many as 13 other members of La Mora — a decades-old settlement in Sonora state founded as part of an offshoot of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — were initially reported missing after the attack on a convoy of SUVs carrying community members, said a relative who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals.-CBS
The relative said he had located the burned-out, bullet-ridden SUV containing the remains of his nephew’s wife and her four children, twin seven-month old babies and two other children aged 8 and 10.
Authorities in Sonora state and the U.S. Embassy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Mexico’s federal Department of Security and Citizens’ Protection said security forces were reinforced with National Guard, army and state police troops in the area following “the reports about disappearance and aggression against several people.” The troops were searching for the missing community members.
Jhon LeBaron, one of the relatives, posted on his Facebook page that his aunt and another woman were dead. He said six of his aunt’s children had been left abandoned but alive on a roadside. He wrote late Monday that a total of 17 of his family members were in the three-vehicle convoy when it came under attack. He said nine were killed, six wounded, and two left unharmed.
Another relative, Julian LeBaron, identified one of the slain adults on his Facebook page as Rhonita Maria LeBaron. Jhon identified her as Maria Ronita Lebaron. She was apparently killed along with her twin seven-month old babies and two of her other seven children.
The first relative said the convoy set out Monday from La Mora, about 70 miles south of Douglas, Arizona, but was attacked by cartel gunmen in a possible case of mistaken identity. Many of the church’s members were born in Mexico and thus have dual citizenship.
A 13-year-old survivor walked for hours to get help after hiding his brothers and sisters with tree branches. Devin Langford hid his remaining brothers and sisters after witnessing his mother and brothers being killed, then walked 14 miles to his home in La Mora to get help. His 9-year-old sister, McKenzie, followed after him, and was later found lost and wandering in the desert, a gun shot wound in the arm.