'Pray For Us All': WhatsApp Audio Messages Reveal Horror Of Mexico Massacre
Family members can be heard struggling to come to terms with a daylight massacre that left three mothers and six children dead.
A convoy of vehicles was travelling between the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua on Monday when members of a criminal gang opened fire killing three mothers and six young children.
Chilling footage showed the charred and smoking remains of an SUV riddled with bullet holes. Police claim they found more than 200 bullet casings at the scene, mostly from assault rifles.
The youngest of the victims was just eight months old.
By the time news of the attack got back to the remainder of the family, there was little anyone could do but pray.
"Dear God, everybody pray!" one family member believed to be Kendra Lee Miller said in a WhatsApp audio message, clearly shaken. "Officers just came and said my mum's suburban has blown up... up by the hill. Everyone, please pray".
"Nita and her children are gone," Miller said. "They've been burned inside the vehicle. Uncle Jeffrey verified, counted all five bodies. Their bones are burned... Their bodies are burned to a crisp. Dear God pray for us all."
Eight children managed to survive the massacre but several were injured, suffering bullet wounds to the face, back and legs.
One boy, just 13-year-old, hid his wounded siblings in bushes and covered them with branches before walking more than 22 kilometres to get help.
"Keep praying!" Miller urged in a third audio message. "They still have 5 kids hiding in the bushes. Devin walked home."
Messages from other family members have not been released.
The victims were all U.S. citizens and members of the extended LeBaron family who had been living in a breakaway group once associated with the Mormon Church.
The drug cartel is believed to be responsible for the daylight murders, but authorities are yet to confirm. The LaBaron family has a history with the drug cartel.
In 2009, Erick LeBaron was kidnapped for a US$1 million ransom but the community took a stand, refusing to pay up for his release. He was eventually let go.
Months later, his brother Benjamin, who led the push for Erick's release, was beaten to death. His brother-in-law was also killed in an act of apparent revenge after security forces tracked drug gang members.
Other family members had been pulled over and threatened with guns in recent months, reported the Washington Post.
While relative Alex LeBaron is confident it was a targeted attack, authorities believe it may have been nothing more than a case of mistaken identity.
A man arrested on Tuesday has been released from custody. The heavily-armed man was arrested close to where the deadly ambush played out. Police are confident he is not connected to the case.
It means investigators are now back to square one.
As many as 1000 mourners, some from as far away as Utah, gathered in the tiny town of La Mora on Thursday to say their final goodbyes to all nine victims.
Mexican army troops stood by to protect the crowd as immediate family members were buried together in three separate ceremonies.