MEXICO CITY — At least three women and six children were slaughtered by cartel gunmen and one child was still missing in northern Mexico, the country's top security official said Tuesday.
Relatives said the victims are U.S. citizens from La Mora, a religious community about 70 miles south of Douglas.
The gunmen may have mistaken the group's large SUVs for rival gangs, Security Secretary Alfonso Durazo said. He said six children were wounded in the attack, and five have been transferred to hospitals in Phoenix.
La Mora is a decades-old settlement in Sonora state founded as part of an offshoot of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Relatives say the group was attacked while traveling in a convoy of three SUVs. The relatives asked not to be named for fear of reprisals.
A relative said he had located the burned-out, bullet-ridden SUV containing the remains of his nephew's wife and her four children — twin 6-month old babies and two other children aged 8 and 10.
The U.S. Embassy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Mexico's federal Department of Security and Citizens' Protection said late Monday that security forces were reinforced with National Guard, army and state police troops in the area following "the reports about disappearance and aggression against several people." The troops were searching for the missing community members, believed to include 11 children or more.
Another relative, Julian LeBaron, said on his Facebook page the dead woman was Rhonita Maria LeBaron.
The first relative said a convoy of three vehicles had set out Monday from La Mora, but was attacked by cartel gunmen in a possible case of mistaken identity by gunmen. Many of the church's members were born in Mexico and thus have dual citizenship.
While he said he found the first vehicle, the other two SUVs were missing along with their passengers.
Jhon LeBaron, another relative, posted on his Facebook page that his aunt and another woman were dead, which could bring the death toll to at least seven. He also posted that six of his aunt's children had been left abandoned but alive on a roadside.
It would not be the first time that members of the break-away church had been attacked in northern Mexico, where their forebears settled — often in Chihuahua state — decades ago.
In 2009, Benjamin LeBaron, an anti-crime activist who was related to those killed in Monday's attack, was murdered in 2009 in neighboring Chihuahua state.