A Mexican Director of Public Safety in Janos, Mexico has been arrested in the murder investigation of members of a Mormon family, the LeBarons. The family, which held dual U.S. and Mexican citizenships, was ambushed and nine of its members were murdered on a highway in Mexico in November.
Fidel Alejandro Villegas was the police chief in Janos. He reportedly has ties to the La Linea, which is the enforcement arm of the Juarez drug cartel, which was blamed for the massacre against the LeBaron family on a remote dirt road in Bavispe, in the state of Sonora.
Why the cartel would target a family and kill three women and six young children is unknown. Seven other children survived the ambush, but five of them were wounded in the attack. They five wounded children hid in the brush until the other two could bring help. The family’s vehicles were shot up and then burned by the assailants.
The fact that Villegas was involved was a shock to the people of his town. His town is nearly 100 miles away from where the ambush took place.
Mexican authorities haven’t commented on the arrest yet.
Villegas is reportedly in custody in Mexico City. Earlier this month, two brothers, Héctor Mario and Luis Manuel Hernández, and one other person who has not been named by the authorities, have already been arrested in connection with the murders.
The family was ambushed on November 4 at about 9:30 a.m. while it was spread out over a 12-mile stretch of a remote highway about 40 miles south of the Arizona border. The first vehicle, a white Chevy Suburban, was riddled with gunfire. The driver, Christina Marie Langford Johnson, 29, jumped out of the vehicle, waving her arms to show that the family were not gang members or police. She saved her 7-month old baby by placing her car seat on the floorboards before exiting the vehicle. Regardless, she was shot dead.
A mile back, a second white Suburban was ambushed. Dawna Langford and eight children were in that vehicle. Dawna and two of her sons, Trevor, 11, and Rogan, 3, were killed.
The third vehicle was 11 miles behind the other two after suffering a flat tire. Rhonita María Miller was traveling with four of her seven children to Phoenix to pick up her husband from the airport. The ambushers sprayed the car with bullets, one of which hit the gas tank causing the vehicle to explode killing Miller and all four children, 12-year old son Howard, 10-year old daughter Krystal and eight-month-old twins Tiana and Titus.
While Mexican officials blamed the attack on a turf war between the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels, that theory was rejected by the family involved. Julián LeBaron, a spokesman for the LeBaron family, said that he was less than surprised by the alleged involvement of a high-level police officer in the region.
“The entire northwest [of Mexico] has a reputation that all police officers work for organized crime,” he said in an interview with local news, shortly after Villegas’s arrest. “And that’s what high school kids tell you. It’s not a mystery.”
However, it doesn’t make sense why the cartels would target this family. The incident inflamed tensions on both sides of the border. President Trump considered designating the cartels as terrorist organizations and sending troops across the border. The attack also was an example of how President Lopez Obrador’s policy of “hugs not bullets” isn’t working.
Mormons have had a presence in Mexico since the United States outlawed polygamy in the late 1880s.