Police apprehended the suspect, who has not yet been named, in the mountains of Agua Prieta, a region in the Mexican state of Chihuaha, according to a Facebook post written by the Agency for Criminal Investigation in the state of Sonora. At the time of the arrest, the suspect was holding two hostages, who were found bound and gagged in the back of a truck. Police also recovered a bulletproof SUV and multiple weapons on the scene.
The victims, including three women and six children, were attacked in their vehicles while traveling between Sorora and Chihuahua. Three vehicles were attacked, and one vehicle burst into flames after it was riddled with bullets. Eight children survived in the massacre, including one teenage girl, who walked 14 miles to get help while her family members hid in the bushes on the side of the road.
All of the victims were members of the LeBaron family, a fundamentalist Mormon group with members living along the Mexican-U.S. border. The sect broke with the Church of Latter Day Saints and moved to Mexico in the 1920s, following the LDS’s official ban of polygamy. Some, but not all, members practice polygamy today.
The motive behind the attack is still unclear. In a statement, Mexican authorities said that the suspect had suggested that the Jaguars, an offshoot of the Sinaloa cartel headed by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, were responsible for the ambush. At the time of the attack, the family was traveling through what is believed to be the Jaguars’ territory.
In a statement on Tuesday, Mexican Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said the cars may have been ambushed due to “conflicting groups in the area” mistaking the passengers for family members of warring gang members. U.S. officials have also suggested that La Línea, a rival cartel in the area, may also have been responsible for the attack.
Members of the LeBaron family, however, have disputed this official version of events, pointing to the family members’ history of activism against the drug cartels. In 2009, a member of the family, Benjamin LeBaron, was murdered along with his brother-in-law after leading a nationwide effort to pressure a local drug cartel to release his 16-year-old brother Erick, who had been kidnapped and released by the cartel a few months earlier. The family was later the subject of U.S. media coverage when it violated Mexican law by arming itself in self-defense after the attacks.
Coincidentally, members of the LeBaron family were featured in a documentary about the aftermath of the kidnapping produced by a member of NXIVM, an Albany-based group widely referred to as a “sex cult” with ties to powerful and wealthy Mexican families; a Lebaron family member later disavowed the film, which was used as a recruiting tool for the organization.
In an interview about the attack with Mexico’s W Radio, Alex LeBaron, a Chihuahua state legislator and LeBaron family member, denied the official Mexican government’s version of events. “This was no crossfire,” he said, adding, “It couldn’t have been a mistake. This is terrorism, plain and simple.”