Claudia Pavlovich Arellano, the governor of the state of Sonora, said that she would do everything in her power to ensure that the “monsters” who carried out the attacks did not go unpunished. “As a mother, I feel anger, revulsion and a profound pain for the cowardly acts in the mountains between Sonora and Chihuahua,” she wrote on Twitter.
Julian LeBarón, a cousin of the three women who were driving the vehicles, said in a telephone interview from Bavispe, Mexico, that the women and their children had been traveling from the state of Sonora to the state of Chihuahua.
His cousin Rhonita was traveling to Phoenix to pick up her husband, who works in North Dakota and was returning to celebrate the couple’s wedding anniversary. Her car broke down, Mr. LeBarón said, and the gunmen “opened fire on Rhonita and torched her car.”
She was killed, along with an 11-year-old boy, a 9-year-old girl and twins who were less than a year old, he said.
About eight miles ahead, the two other cars were also attacked, killing the two other women, Mr. LeBarón said. A 4-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl were also killed, he said.
Family members said several children were rescued, some having hidden by the roadside to escape the attackers.
“Six little kids were killed, and seven made it out alive,” Mr. LeBarón said.
The women had married men from La Mora, which is in the municipality of Bavispe in Sonora. The surviving children were being taken by helicopter from Bavispe, the town closest to the La Mora community, to a hospital, he said.
He expressed bewilderment over what could have precipitated the attack. “They intentionally murdered those people,” Mr. LeBarón said. “We don’t know what their motives were.”
One of the women even got out of her car, Mr. LeBarón said, and put up her hands. “They shot her point blank in the chest,” he said.
Mr. LeBarón said the family had not received any threats, other than general warnings not to travel to Chihuahua, where they typically went to buy groceries and fuel.
As he watched the helicopter fly off with the injured children, Mr. LeBarón said that perhaps the killings would finally spur enough outrage to force change.
“We need the Mexican people to say at some point, we’ve had enough,” he said. “We need accountability; we don’t have that on any level.”
The family’s religious community is not affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the mainstream church with 16 million adherents that is headquartered in Utah.
Their community began in the early 20th century when members of the LeBarón family moved to Mexico and practiced polygamy, which was forbidden by the Latter-day Saints. Religious communities that date themselves to Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often call themselves Mormon. The mainstream church has abandoned the moniker. Polygamy has largely faded from the community.
It was not immediately clear if their religious beliefs were a factor in their deaths.