LA MORA, Mexico (AP) — With Mexican soldiers standing guard, a mother and two sons were carried to the grave in hand-hewn pine coffins Thursday at the first funeral for the victims of a drug cartel ambush that left nine American women and children dead.
About 500 mourners embraced in grief under white tents erected in La Mora, a hamlet of about 300 people who consider themselves to be Mormons but are not officially affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Members of the extended community — many of whom, like the victims, are dual U.S-Mexican citizens — had built the coffins themselves, and used shovels to dig a single, large grave for the three in the rocky soil of La Mora’s small cemetery. Farmers and teenage boys carried the dead.
The coffins were placed on low tables, and mourners filed past to view the bodies and pay their last respects to Dawna Ray Langford, 43, and her sons, Trevor, 11, and Rogan, 2.
They were to be laid to rest together, just as they died together Monday when attackers fired a hail of bullets at their SUV on a dirt road leading to another settlement, Colonia LeBaron, in neighboring Chihuahua state. Six children and three women in all were killed in the attack on the convoy of three SUVs.
There was no talk of revenge in this highly religious community, only a deep thirst for justice.
“The eyes of the world are upon what happened here, and there are Saints all over this world whose hearts have been touched,” Jay Ray, Dawna’s father, said in a eulogy. “God will take care of the wicked,” he added.
Dawna’s younger sister, Amber Ray, 34, eulogized her as a devoted mother to her 13 children.
The hamlet, where American-style frame houses alternate with barns and orchards, is about 70 miles south of the Arizona border. Patrols of Mexican army troops passed by regularly Thursday on its only paved road, providing security that was lacking the day of the killings.
The other victims are expected to be buried later in Colonia LeBaron. But the two communities, whose residents are related, drew together in a show of grief.
Dozens of pickups and SUVS, many with U.S. license plates from as far away as North Dakota, arrived in La Mora for the funeral, traveling over the dirt road where the attack occurred.
Gunmen from the Juarez drug cartel had allegedly set up the ambush as part of a turf war with the Sinaloa cartel, and the U.S. families drove into it.
Steven Langford, who was mayor of La Mora from 2015 to 2018 and whose sister, Christina Langford, was one of the women killed, said he expects the slayings to lead to an exodus from the community: “Now this place is going to become a ghost town,” he said.
Mexican officials have said the attackers may have mistaken the group’s large SUVs for those of a rival gang. But Julian LeBaron, whose brother, Benjamin, an anti-crime activist, was killed by cartel gunmen in 2009, disputed that.
“They had to have known that it was women and children,” he said.
To many, the bloodshed seemed to demonstrate once more that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s government has essentially turned control of vast areas of Mexico over to drug traffickers.