Yahoo News.- Incredible stories of survival emerged on Wednesday November 6th from northern Mexico as authorities searched for clues into a massacre that took the lives of nine family members – three women and six children.
Eight children managed to escape from cartel gunmen who ambushed three SUVs Monday – killing the children’s mothers – along a dirt road in a remote mountainous area of Sonora state in an attack that left one vehicle a burned-out, bullet-riddled hulk.
The children hid amid the brush as bullets flew; some walked miles to get help despite gunshot wounds.
The victims were all dual U.S.-Mexican citizens, relatives said. Five of the eight children were seriously injured and flown to the border in a military helicopter to receive hospital care in the United States. Sonora state health officials said the children were stable at the moment of transfer.
The three remaining children were in the care of family members at the small settlement of La Mora.
Kendra Miller, a relative, said Devin Langford, 13, was one of the few uninjured children and quickly took charge, eventually walking about 14 miles back to La Mora for help.
“After witnessing his mother and brothers being shot dead, Devin hid his six other siblings in the bushes and covered them with branches to keep them safe while he went for help,” Miller told the Associated Press. “When he took too long to return, his 9-year-old sister left the remaining five to try again.”
That girl, Mckenzie Rayne Langford, walked for hours in the dark before she was found several hours after the other children were rescued. She was listed as missing for a while.
Altogether, the children were on their own from about 1 p.m., when the ambush began, until about 7:30 p.m., when they were rescued. Relatives from La Mora tried to reach them before that but were turned back by gunfire. The area is the site of a cartel turf war.
In recordings of calls between the rescuers, they can be heard debating whether it was better to risk more lives or wait for an hour or two until Mexican Army troops arrived.
Christina Langford Johnson – one of three mothers who died Monday – reportedly stashed her 7-month-old baby on the floor of her Suburban and got out of the vehicle, waving her arms to show the gunmen she wasn’t a threat.
Her bullet-riddled body was found about 15 yards away from the SUV. Her baby, Faith, was found alive in her car seat on the floor of the vehicle.
Criminal investigators in northern Mexico initially said a suspect arrested Tuesday may be connected to the massacre, but on Wednesday public security official Alfonso Durazo said preliminary information indicates he was not involved.
The suspect had been found holding two hostages and in possession of four assault rifles and ammunition, as well as various large vehicles that included a bulletproofed SUV. One of the vehicles was linked to a robbery in Phoenix.
Officials have said the gunmen might have mistaken the group’s large SUVs for those of a rival gang amid a vicious turf war.
Homero Mendoza, Mexico’s general secretary of defense, said in a news conference Wednesday that early Monday morning a gunbattle had taken place near the Sonora-U.S. border between members of two criminal groups, Chihuahua-based La Linea and Sonora’s Los Salazar.
La Linea then dispatched a cell to the mountain region to prevent members of Los Salazar from traveling into Chihuahua, Mendoza said.
The three families were traveling on a rough rural road that leads from Sonora to Chihuahua when they were attacked, starting with the first vehicle about 9 a.m. The others were attacked around 11 a.m., about 11 miles away, Mendoza said.
“These acts in which women and children lost their lives makes it clear that we need a collaboration and a union of forces,” the Agency for Criminal Investigation for the state of Sonora said in a statement posted on Facebook. “Criminality should be analyzed and combated, not only in local protest, but also regional, national and transnational.”
It remains unknown whether the anti-crime reputation of the victims’ extended family influenced the Monday attack. The victims were related to the LeBaron family, whose members have clashed with drug traffickers over the years. One of them, Benjamin LeBaron, was murdered by the cartels in 2009 after he founded neighborhood patrols against them.
The victims, who lived in Sonora state, about 70 miles of Douglas, Arizona, belonged to a fundamentalist Mormon ranching community founded by people who separated long ago from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, relatives said. The church expressed its sympathy but said the families were not members.
The LeBaron colony in the Mexican state of Chihuahua was founded in 1924 by Alma Dayer LeBaron, who brought his wives and children across the border, according to NBC News.
Sonora is considered a key location by the international drug trade and human trafficking network. It is labeled as a “Level 3: Reconsider Travel” by the U.S. State Department because of the risk of crime.
The governor of Sonora, Claudia Pavlovich Arellano, said the attackers will not go unpunished.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey arrived Wednesday in the Sonoran capital of Hermosillo and was to meet with Pavlovich Arellano at the annual summit of the Arizona-Mexico Commission.
Ducey’s appearance had been planned a while back, but his spokesman, Patrick Ptak, told The Arizona Republic on the massacre: “We fully expect this to come up in discussions.”
Contributing: Daniel Gonzalez, The Arizona Republic; The Associated Press. Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY