REGION — The Cochise County Sheriff’s Office has increased patrols in both Douglas and Naco following a massive shootout in Agua Prieta early Monday that left 11 people dead and at least five children under the age of 10 injured in the crossfire, law enforcement officials said.
Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels said three adults and six children belonging to one family were killed Monday after an attack in Agua Prieta. The sheriff’s office also received reports of at least two other people not belonging to that family getting killed in the shooting incident. The family, who lived in a hamlet called La Mora in Sonora state, was traveling in a caravan of three sport utility vehicles to their destinations. La Mora is about 70 miles south of Douglas.
The five wounded youngsters, between the ages of 8 months and 9 years old, crossed the port of entry at Douglas on Monday afternoon and were taken to hospitals in Tucson and Phoenix, Dannels said. The injured children are part of a large extended Mormon family who was traveling to see relatives and to attend a wedding.
“We’re on the southern border,” Dannels said regarding extra units. “We’re still on heightened alert. We’re working with local police and officials at the ports of entry.”
Dannels told the Douglas Dispatch newspaper on Monday that gunfire broke out after a caravan had traveled into Agua Prieta. Douglas Police Lt. Mark Wilkinson said Monday that he heard the gunfire from his residence, which is 12 blocks from the border with Agua Prieta.
The family, which had connections in Williston, North Dakota, was traveling in a caravan of SUVs when they were attacked by gunmen, according to family and media reports.
Family member Tiffany Langford posted on Facebook that as of Monday, Nov. 4, nine people were confirmed dead, including a mother and her four children who had been shot and burned in their vehicle.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the woman was Rhonita Maria LeBaron Miller and the children were her infant twins and two of her four older children.
“These are all American citizens,” Tiffany Langford wrote on Facebook. “Mexico is working to help, but not able to do anything of significance so far. They need help. We are pleading with America to step in and help their people.”
On her Facebook page, Tiffany Langford offered a narrative of what happened Monday. She listed those killed as Rhonita Maria Miller, 30; Howard Jacob Miller, Jr., 12; Krystal Bellaine Miller, 10; Titus Alvin Miller and Tiana Gricel Miller, 8 month-old twins; Christina Marie Langford Johnson, 31; Dawna Ray Langford, 43; Trevor Harvey Langford, 11; and Rogan Jay Langford, 2.
According to the Associated Press in Mexico City, eight youngsters were found alive after escaping from the vehicles in the caravan and hiding in the brush. But five of those children — likely the ones brought to the port of entry in Douglas via ambulance — suffered gunshot wounds. Those children, according to Dannels, were spirited to hospitals in Tucson and Phoenix.
While the motive for Monday’s gun battle is not known, Wilkinson said it’s very similar to another shootout that occurred in Agua Prieta in June. He said such incidents are uncommon, but when they do occur it’s usually the cartel — in Agua Prieta it would be the Sinaloan Cartel — protecting its turf or “plaza.”
In a different Facebook post, another relative, Jhon Lebaron, wrote that Rhonita’s husband was in North Dakota. Some of the group had been heading to visit relatives while another was going to pick up her husband from the airport in Phoenix.
“They were ambushed by the Mexican cartels; shot, burned, and murdered in cold blood,” he wrote. “These were innocent civilians, American citizens simply trying to live peaceful lives.”
The family members are part of a Mormon enclave established in northern Mexico in the early 20th century.
The incident, Dannels said, underscores the cruelty of drug cartels because they often massacre innocent people when involved in their turf wars.
“It’s time to step up and see that these cartels are horrible,” the sheriff said Tuesday. “We had 11 people killed and five children shot.”
The Williston Herald contributed to this report.