The first funeral for victims of this week's cartel massacre that killed nine American women and children was held Thursday in the remote La Mora farming community in northern Mexico, as a mother and her two sons were laid to rest in hand-hewn pine coffins in a single grave.
About 500 mourners paid their respects to Dawna Ray Langford, 43, and her two sons, 11-year-old Trevor and 2-year-old Rogan. The trio were riding in a convoy of SUVs when attackers opened fire on a dirt road leading to another settlement, Colonia LeBaron. Six women and three children died in the shooting.
Clad in shirt sleeves, suits or modest dresses, they embraced in grief under white tents erected in La Mora. Some wept, and some sang hymns. Members of the extended community — many of whom, like the victims, are dual citizens of the U.S. and Mexico — had built the coffins themselves and used shovels to dig the shared grave in La Mora's small cemetery. Farmers and teenage boys carried the coffins.
“The eyes of the world are upon what happened here, and there are saints all over this world whose hearts have been touched,” said Jay Ray, Langford's father. “The plan of God is for His saints to gather out from among the wicked, become separate from them, to band together to establish together the laws of respect and onedom.”
MOURNERS OF MEXICAN CARTEL MASSACRE VICTIMS, ESCORTED BY MILITARY, ARRIVE FOR FIRST FUNERALS
“God will take care of the wicked,” he added.
Langford was fond of saying, “There isn't anything in life that a cup of coffee couldn't make better,” her sister, 34-year-old Amber Ray, recalled during her eulogy, saying that her sister was a devoted mother to 13 children who loved to laugh and baked the best birthday cakes.
About 300 people live in the small community, whose residents consider themselves Mormon but don't affiliate with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Dozens of high-riding pickups and SUVS, many with U.S. license plates from as far away as North Dakota, arrived in La Mora for the funeral, traveling over the dirt road where the attack occurred. Patrols of Mexican army troops passed by regularly on the hamlet's only paved road but much of the area is generally without law enforcement. Residents have taken to providing their own security since the 2009 killing of an anti-crime activist.
Gunmen from the Juarez drug cartel had apparently set up the ambush as part of a turf war with the Sinaloa cartel, and the U.S. families drove into it.
Mexican officials said the attackers may have mistaken the group's large SUVs for those of a rival gang.
The other victims were expected to be buried in Colonia LeBaron at a later date.
MEXICAN MASSACRE SUSPECT ARRESTED AT BORDER NOT TIED TO ATTACK; CONFUSION OVER WHICH CARTEL WAS RESPONSIBLE
“The country is suffering very much from violence,” said William Stubbs, a pecan and alfalfa farmer who serves on a security committee in Colonia LeBaron. “You see it all over. And it ain’t getting better. It’s getting worse.”
The Mexican army chief of staff, Gen. Homero Mendoza, said the attack started Monday at 9:40 a.m. The nearest army units were about 100 miles away at the time and soldiers didn't arrive until 6:15 p.m. — while five surviving children hid in the mountains with bullet wounds.
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Steven Langford, who was mayor of La Mora from 2015 to 2018 and whose sister Christina Langford was one of the women killed, told The Associated Press he expects the slayings to lead to an exodus from the community.
“Now this place is going to become a ghost town,” he said. “A lot of people are going to leave.”
“It was a massacre, 100 percent a massacre,” the former mayor added. “I don't know how it squares with the conscience of someone to do something so horrible.”
Fox News' Dom Calicchio and Stephen Sorace, as well as The Associated Press, contributed to this report.