Friday, December 27, 2019

Janos, Chihuahua: Municipal Police Chief Arrested in Mormon Family Murders

Yaqui for Borderland Beat from: Guardian / Reuters / NYT/ NYP
A Mexican police chief arrested in connection to Mormon family killings, Fidel Alejandro Villegas:
A head of public security in Chihuahua, Mexico has been arrested in connection with the Mormon massacre last month, according to new reports, by SEIDO.

Fidel Alejandro Villegas Villegas, the director of public safety in Janos, was nabbed Tuesday by the Attorney General’s Office for his alleged ties to "La Linea", part of the Juárez drug cartel that’s believed to have ambushed the nine relatives last month, the Herald of Chihuahua reported.

Villegas Villegas, whose nickname is “El Chiquilin,” is being held in Mexico City.  His arrest wasn’t officially announced but it was confirmed by Sebastián Efraín Pineda, the mayor of Janos, located near the US-Mexico border.

Villegas Villegas is the fourth person to be detained in the high-profile murders of extended members of the LeBaron family — a breakaway sect of Mormons with US-Mexico citizenship.
Nine women and children of US-Mexican origin were shot dead by suspected drug cartel hitmen last month on Nov 4, 2019. 

Mexican authorities have arrested a municipal police chief for his suspected links to the killing of three women and six children of US-Mexican origin in northern Mexico last month, local media and an official said on Friday.

Suspected drug cartel hitmen shot dead the nine women and children from families of Mormon origin in Sonora state on 4 November, sparking outrage in Mexico and the United States.

Several Mexican media outlets reported that law enforcement agents arrested Fidel Alejandro Villegas, the police chief of the municipality of Janos, which lies in the neighboring state of Chihuahua, on suspicion of involvement in the crime. The reports said he is suspected of having ties to organized crime, but details of his alleged role were not clear.

A federal official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the arrest of Villegas, which follows the detention of other suspects earlier in the investigation.
Mexican officials believe the women and children were killed after becoming caught up in a dispute between local drug cartels battling for control of the area.

Under pressure from the Trump administration, the Mexican president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador,  AMLO, sought US cooperation in the case, inviting the FBI to help in the investigation.

HISTORY : How an isolated group of Mormons got caught up in Mexico's cartel wars;
Amid the scrubby foothills of Sonora’s Sierra Madre mountains, they farmed pomegranates and pistachios, raised large families and preached a fundamentalist Mormon faith.

For years, the small community of La Mora also maintained an uneasy peace with the mafia gangs who dominate this part of northern Mexico: identifying themselves at cartel checkpoints and avoiding the region’s lonely dirt roads after dark.

“We’ve all been stopped on the road – cartel groups just wanting to know who we are,” said Kenneth Miller Jr, a resident of the little town. “We’ve never had to worry about much. We were always warned beforehand if there was stuff going on in the area.”

But if the Mormons ever thought they would be protected by the US passports which most of them hold, any such illusions were shattered this week.

Six children and three women – all US citizens – were massacred on a dirt road nearby, when gunmen ambushed their convoy of SUVs, killing children at point-blank range and shooting one mother as she begged for their lives.

“They shot the shit out of my grandchildren, my daughters, daughter-in-law – just burned them to a crisp,” said an anguished member of the family in a voice message shared among relatives, which was passed on to the Guardian. “There’s nothing left. Just a few bones.”

The massacre prompted Donald Trump to call for “WAR” against the cartels, mounding pressure on Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the president whose discourse has forgone the militarized strategy of his predecessors in favor of a vaguely defined strategy of moral renovation.

But the incident has also thrust the isolated Mormon communities into the spotlight, highlighting their long history in a harsh corner of the country, their origins as religious renegades fleeing US laws against polygamy – and their more recent brushes with Mexican drug cartels.
                                  Funeral procession for the victims of the Nov 4 massacre
In the town of La Mora, about 70 miles south of the Arizona border, nobody is sure what exactly provoked Monday’s attacks.

Mexican officials have speculated that cartel gunmen mistook the group of women and children for members of a rival armed group.

The region is understood to be the site of a battle for dominance between an organized crime group known as La Línea, based in Ciudad Juárez , Chihuahua, and another group known as Los Salazar based in Sonora and affiliated with the Sinaloa cartel.

But the eight children who survived – several of them with serious gunshot wounds – told a story of senseless violence, in which one of the women got out of her SUV to signal that they were women and children, only to be shot dead.

The man in the audio recording – identified by a source as Kenneth Miller Sr –described the aftermath of the attack, in which a search party from La Mora set out to find the missing families, only to turn back when they realized gunmen they suspect belonged to the Chihuahua faction were still in position on a nearby hilltop.

“Pretty soon, here comes the Sonoran guys. Literally 50, 60 [of them] and they waited there. And they were a little nervous, too. So until they coked up – when they finally got brave to go – they went on in and we followed,” he said in the recording, which was shared via WhatsApp.

Relatives of the victims acknowledge that the security situation in the region had started to deteriorate as the rival crime groups battled to control the isolated road running north towards the frontier.

“The tensions have escalated in the last few months. The Chihuahua side and the Sonora side have been battling over this route for a while now,” Miller Jr said. “The Chihuahua side is trying to move in because this is a huge smuggling route through here.”

Brent LeBarón, whose aunt and cousins were killed in Monday’s attack, said the first sign something was amiss came earlier this year, when American relatives traveling to a funeral in the region inadvertently drove through a cartel checkpoint – provoking a chase and a warning.

Other warnings came “through the grapevine”, he said. “Obviously, they’re fighting over turf and access to roads and getting their drugs to the border.”

The  attack was not the first time the LeBarón family had been targeted. A decade ago, a boy was kidnapped from the town of Colonia LeBarón, which the family founded in Chihuahua. On that occasion, the family refused to pay a ransom and barricaded the town, forcing the captors to free the boy.

But soon after, cartel henchmen returned and seized Benjamín LeBarón – who had become prominent as an anti-crime activist – and his brother-in-law Luis Widmar.

The two men were dragged from their homes and killed – but few in the family express regret that they stood up to the gunmen.

“If you pay one, you’re going to get 10 more. It was stance we had to take as a community,” said Brent LeBarón as he travelled to La Mora on Thursday for the victims’ funerals.

“That’s why it got so much fame … because, hey, we’re not going to stand for this. And if you can’t protect us, then try to come in and take our farms or take us out of our farms.”

Such words reflect a frontier ethos influenced by the family’s American roots – but also the fact most in the family are dual US-Mexican citizens.

Brent LeBarón acknowledged that in the past their status had made Mexican authorities more ready to react – “it becomes a bigger problem with dual citizens being attacked.”

That was not the case on Monday, Nov 4 , when it took police and army eight hours to reach the site of the attack.

But in a country where victims’ families usually remain silent for fear of retaliation – or stigmatized as somehow being complicit in the violence against them – the LeBaróns and other Mormon families have made their voices heard.

“Yes, death sucks, but we’re not afraid of it and we’re willing to defend what’s ours: our rights and the right to life and happiness and the pursuit of it,” said Brent LeBarón.

Despite the harsh surroundings, families in Mexico’s Mormon colonies have prospered over the years. Many of the men work as roofers, framers and drywallers in the United States, then invest their earnings into pecan orchards and chili fields back in Mexico.

But they trace their origins to 1876, when the Mormon prophet Brigham Young sent exploratory teams at a time the church was trying to escape US prohibitions on polygamy and evangelize in Mexico and Latin America, said Jeffrey Jones, a former Mexican senator and distant relative of a leader from the original expedition.

Some of the community still belong to the official LDS church, though many still worship in unaffiliated congregations, said Brent LeBarón, although he said the practice of polygamy is “fading”.

The first settlers grew apples and peaches in nine colonies on the high plains – until the revolution of 1910 erupted.

Revolutionary leaders ordered the settlers to disarm, prompting a mass exodus, said Jones – who resides on the same property in Colonia Dublán, the birthplace of George Romney, father of 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Some modern-day Mexican Mormons express similar fears of being unprotected in a country which has strict gun-control laws but is awash with illegal weapons.

“If the Mexican government made it so a civilian could own a firearm, I truly believe all this stuff would calm down a lot quicker than anyone would realize,” said Miller Jr.

But another family member, Alex LeBarón, pointed out that many of the weapons used in Mexico’s raging drug wars come from north of the border. After Donald Trump tweeted “you sometimes need an army to defeat an army”, he replied: “Want to help some more? Stop the ATF and gun law loopholes from systematically injecting high-powered assault weapons to Mexico.”

The patriarch of the vast Mormon family of Mexican-American origin became a focus of attention for the press after gunmen killed nine women and children on November 4, in Sonora state, in northern Mexico, causing outrage on both sides of the border.

LeBarón, with 35 children, 87 grandchildren and a great-grandson, could not hold back his tears by remembering his daughter Rhonita Miller, 30, whose charred body was found after the massacre in a burning vehicle on a dirt road near her house.

"We are grateful for giving us the strength to resist those things that have hurt us in the soul," said the 58-year-old man, along with Shalom, one of his three wives and Rhonita's mother.

Memories of Rhonita and her dead children filled the spacious house on the top of a hill in northern Chihuahua, with an imposing view of walnut orchards, shortly before the family sat down to eat roasted turkey and Mexican food.

At the end of the night, LeBarón sang a song to Rhonita in memory of his last dance at a Mexican celebration in September.

His sister Lian wore a bracelet made of two pacifiers of the seven-month-old twins killed by Rhonita: Titus and Tiana, while other family members wore rings made of metal taken from the remains of the truck in which the family was killed .

Xavier, the son of Lían, thought of his dead cousin, Howard, 12. "I miss him too much," said the little one.

Mexican authorities have arrested several suspects linked to the massacre. Researchers believe it is possible that the family was left in the middle of a battle between drug cartels fighting the area.
When he began receiving the calls from frantic family members that his daughter and four of his grandchildren had been killed on a rocky stretch of road in the Sierra Madre mountains last month, Adrian LeBaron didn’t wait for local law enforcement. He drove in search of the crime scene, and began his own investigation.

He and his wife were the first to arrive on the desolate highway where hitmen working for drug cartels had brutally massacred their daughter Rhonita Miller and eight others from a cluster of Mormon communities where the LeBarons live in northern Mexico.

Pausing to put on rubber gloves so as not to erase fingerprints or other vital crime scene markings, LeBaron, 59, began the grisly task of digging through the ashes of his daughter’s burnt-out, blackened SUV. Choking back tears, he and his wife Shalom, 56, carefully took photographs of what was left of their loved ones, sifting through pieces of bone and ash and gathering up dozens of shell casings from AR-15 and M-16 assault rifles they found next to the still-smoldering vehicle, the charred remains of their family members visible inside.

They found the bones of their 10-year-old granddaughter Krystal, who had been so scared she squeezed her body into a fetal position just before she was shot. Miller, 30, was shot multiple times, and died along with the four of her seven children who were with her in the car, including 8-month old twins, Titus and Tiana. The youngest victims of the massacre, they likely were burned alive.

“When we picked up those shells so close to the car, we knew that our family had been shot at close range,” LeBaron told The Post Friday. “They had clearly been targeted.” LeBaron said the family and other Mormon clans have long been in the crosshairs of the cartels because they refuse to get out of their way.

And LeBaron, despite his unspeakable losses and the constant danger that surrounds him, defiantly continues his stand. In fact, he has taken the fight to the cartels on several fronts — planning to form armed militias, and lobbying both Washington and Mexico City for stronger enforcement of the cartels.

Enlarge ImageDrug cartels had brutally massacred Adrian LeBaron and his wife's daughter Rhonita Miller (second from the left) and eight others from a cluster of Mormon communities where the LeBarons live in northern Mexico.Drug cartels had brutally massacred Adrian LeBaron and his wife’s daughter Rhonita Miller (second from the left) and eight others from a cluster of Mormon communities where the LeBarons live in northern Mexico.

He and other Mormons in the northern part of the country want to join forces with local law enforcement in wild west-style volunteer militias — “like posses,” he said — that would act as a wall of defense against the traffickers. In order to avoid corruption, LeBaron wants municipal police to be independent, and not beholden to local mayors who have been bought off by the cartels.

“The Mexican municipal police are not autonomous in this area,” said LeBaron. “They are under the control of the mayors, who are financed by the cartels.” Among the crime syndicates in the region is the Sinaloa cartel, once controlled by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who is now serving out a life sentence in the US.

“The old ways here have to change,” said LeBaron. “We have 20 neighboring municipalities and no district attorney. We have no independent police, and that has to change.”

He went to Washington, D.C., to lobby US officials to recognize the drug cartels as terrorist organizations, which would allow the feds to freeze their US assets. And last month, his family led a march against violence in Mexico City.

This cartel attack against women and young children was by far the deadliest in a battle for control of the outback territories in Chihuahua and Sonora states near the US border where criminal gangs transport drugs to the US.


Mexican authorities arrest three in massacre of Mormon family:

“The traffickers want to get rid of the gringos,” LeBaron told The Post. “They want to turn our communities into ghost towns.”

But LeBaron and the 5,000-strong Mormon communities in northern Mexico say they aren’t going anywhere. They are US/Mexican nationals who have lived in these northern states for generations. The clans are descendants of fundamentalist Mormons who settled in Mexico after 1890 when the US government began to put restrictions on polygamy. Adrian LeBaron has 35 children, 85 grandchildren and at one point had four wives, he told The Post.

While LeBaron and many of the men in his family work in the US, he speaks English with a Mexican accent and sometimes fumbles for the right word. He has lived his whole life in Mexico, long enough to know that local authorities cannot be trusted.

So when LeBaron and his wife finished gathering their evidence, they got back into their own SUV and drove five hours north to Arizona, handing their findings to the FBI, the only lawmen they could trust.

One of the findings was “that they had been robbed,” LeBaron said. He and his wife found a checkbook and other articles strewn from Miller’s purse on the ground near her burned-out car.

After the Nov. 4 massacre that left three women and six children dead, Mexican state and federal police took more than 24 hours to arrive on the scene, and forensics investigators didn’t show up until 30 hours after the bodies were found. No yellow police tape ever closed off the two crime scenes, which were 12 miles apart as hitmen targeted the convoy of three SUVs all driven by women, said Le Baron.

When the FBI offered to help with the probe, the Mexican federal government first barred them from crossing the border, a US federal source told The Post.

“About a week later, they finally let in the FBI, but they could not be armed,” said LeBaron, adding that the agents had to follow strict Mexican government protocols that prohibited foreign investigators from identifying themselves as US law enforcement in the country.

“We know that if we want justice, we just have to do it ourselves,” LeBaron told The Post. “And I won’t stop until I get it.”

LeBaron, along with representatives from the other families who lost loved ones in the massacre, haven’t stopped working for justice since they buried their families last month.

After meeting with the FBI in the days after the massacre, LeBaron and dozens of members of his family traveled to Washington, DC, and to Mexico City where they met with government officials, including the Mexican president. In Washington, they sought the aid of two Republican senators, Republicans Rick Scott and Mike Lee, and Democratic Utah Rep. Ben McAdams, to press the federal government to declare cartels terrorist organizations.

President Trump initially backed the move, but then said he was temporarily holding off at the request of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Undaunted, the LeBarons and the other families have started an online petition to push through with the terrorist designation.

“I was heartbroken for Mexico,” said Adriana Jones, 35, one of LeBaron’s daughters and Miller’s older sister who accompanied her parents to their meetings with government leaders. “The amount of people in that [Mexico City] march that came up to me and told me that their family members were also murdered, begging us to be their voice, telling us nobody would listen to them just broke my heart.”

Mormons were targeted, shot at point-blank range in Mexico massacre:
There were 33,341 homicide investigations in Mexico last year, most of them related to drug cartels. This year’s total is expected to top 35,000, according to government statistics. Even so, Mexico’s left-wing president refuses to use violence against the drug traffickers, famously advocating “hugs not bullets” to stop the scourge. In October, AMLO, as he is known in Mexico, ordered police in Sinaloa to release from custody Ovidio Guzman Lopez, one of "El Chapo’s " sons, to avoid a further escalation of the war with the cartel.

Although Mexican authorities recently announced that they have arrested at least three suspects in the Mormon massacre, no other details have been made public.

Last week, LeBaron returned to the Mexican capital to meet with federal investigators who asked him to obtain the titles to the three vehicles that were burned in the attack.

“We appreciate that they are trying to gather evidence, but I don’t know why they have asked for that,” he said. “My feeling about the Mexican authorities is that they are not super heroes. There’s a great deal of ineptitude.”

LeBaron knows that change may take a long time. Many Mormons in the region no longer have the patience, he admitted, and have left the country in the weeks after the massacre. Among them are his grief-stricken son-in-law, Howard Miller, and his three surviving children Tristan, 8, Amaryllis, 5, and Zack, 3.

“I’m not leaving,” said LeBaron. “I owe it to Rhonita and my grandchildren to stay and fight. If I have to tell their story a million times for the next 20 years in order to live in peace, I will.”

25 comments:

  1. I call bs I bet CDs paid top dollar for the Gov to blame la linea

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    Replies
    1. Enough already ... y’all keep singing the same song and can accept the fact that your beloved linieros are nothing more than ruthless pos killers that have no regard for human lives including yours

      Delete
  2. I will never understand this.
    Criminal faces get stripped but innocents protecting there love ones & children sicarios get exposure smh

    H

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  3. Yeah, because Mexican detectives are so skilled and incorruptible right? Lol.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just like the ones in the U.S.?

      Delete
  4. Mexico needs a 2nd amendment.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Can only imagine the brutality of its citizens carrying concealed weapons. Expect a spike in homicides from what already engulfed Mexico with already.

      Delete
  5. The Mormons turned their back on America over a century ago, yet, make sure their children are deeded American citizenship. Like Chapo's wifee, I doubt if they have ever paid any American taxes but take-and-take any and all benefits that America offers! These Mormons won't do shit for America or even Mexico. They are all about their religious cult!

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    Replies
    1. So what's your point? Most US citizens dont pay taxes but receive taxes yet receive tax refunds. Are they less American? This is not about citizenship. Its about some POS coward cartel killing innocent women and children.

      Delete
    2. 4:36 the problem is not that no american pays taxes, but that we all owe the US foreign debt incurred by unbound politicians always on the take who have left the US indebted about 30 TRILLION DOLLARS without much to show for it, except for a future bankruptcy. enjoy!

      Delete
  6. LOL! The Mormons run from bad American laws and systems but now want Mexico to copy American laws and systems.
    Sure thing whatever you want.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gun ownership wasn't always illegal. This is some of the things that happen when they take your guns. This is what they want to do to the US! People don't want American laws, they want to be able to protect their families! Especially when you can't count on law enforcement!

      Delete
  7. Of course they say they aren't going anywhere. Where else can you marry 4 or 5 of your 13 year old female cousins and not go to jail. certainly not in America.

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  8. Something about this event doesn't seem right. I get the feeling that there's more to this story that we will never know. These people were targeted for some reason that is not being revealed, I think.

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    Replies
    1. Mexico is notorious for its transparency.

      Something to ponder on.

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  9. Some of these Religious extremists aka "fundamental mormons" are the smugglers and extortionists that are the problem to begin with

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  10. Sad situation for sure. We all know this scenario is not unique , as it has happened to countless other families and individuals.
    Of course those individuals unfamiliar with what's been happening in MX are angered and shocked , believing this only happened because... US Citizen.

    I'd like to think justice will prevail here, but that is highly doubtful.

    "handing their findings to the FBI, the only
    lawmen they could trust."

    I read this statement and , well.... We hope for the best but in reality...

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  11. Usually MEXICO is enept to solve crimes quickly,they took thier time in letting the FBI into the matter. Wonder if this was the help of the FBI, hope he is really linked to the killings, curupted police chief.

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  12. I attempted to make a comment before and it was never posted. I said that now that some amateur gunmen made the biggest mistake in their livws by killing AMERICANS. The US Government is going to make an example of someone and their entire organization. If the US went into Pakistan to KILL OBL against the knowledge of their government, then WTF do you think they'll do tight next door....!?!??,,

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nothing ... that’s what I think they’ll do ... this isn’t the first time American citizens fall victims of organized crime in Mexico

      Delete
  13. 17 people on an SUV? on a long trip?
    4 people arrested? Did the cartel just hand over the shooters to the authorities?
    The mayor of Janos confirmed the arrest but not officially announced. Why should we believe the mayor if he's also on the payroll?

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    Replies
    1. Go back to our original Posts, FOUR SUVs, heading East to a function, wedding , I think , all women and children.
      And Yes, I believe there is a lot more to this story........however, they WERE driving Suburbans or Suburban type SUVs, still could have been a mix up, looking like a convoy.

      Delete
  14. This tragic doesn't add up anymore, but rest in peace Children

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tragedy never adds up. Never scheduled nor anticipated.

      Delete

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