Kidnappers kill 2 U.S. Citizens in ChihuahuaPosted: Updated:
The word spread rapidly first in the tiny farming community in northern Mexico, then throughout the border state Chihuahua and beyond. Two U.S. citizens with dual Mexican citizenship are dead, kidnapped and killed by the very people they tried stop with peaceful protests. The victims: Benjamin LeBaron and his brother-in-law Luis Widmar Stubbs.
I met Benji in May at protest organized after his 15 year old brother Eric was kidnapped. Another brother Julian LeBaron told me during an on camera interview, " We want to be an inspiration and the conscience of all afflicted people from kidnapping. That's what we're here for."
Nearly the entire town of LeBaron had caravanned to the Chihuahua state capital to protest the kidnapping and demand the government do more to protect them. This region is home to close knit communities founded by American Mormons. The LeBaron group is a fundamentalist offshoot and no longer part of the Mormon church.
Eric's family had made a risky decision: refuse to pay the huge ransom to avoid encouraging more kidnappings. Risk one to protect all.
For 3 days they camped out in front of state government offices. On the final day they were met with the Governor, State Attorney General and were greeted by lawmakers at the state legislature like heroes. They left with promises from the government that there would be an effort to crackdown, and break up the kidnapping rings terrorizing this prosperous farming region and the border state Chihuahua.
Two days later kidnappers released Eric LeBaron unharmed. The town rejoiced and believed they had found a peaceful way to protect themselves. "We did it!" and ecstatic community leader, Clary Jones, told me in a call that Saturday after Eric was free.
A few weeks later the kidnappers struck again in another community nearby. The victim: a Mormon leader and well-known rancher, Meredith Romney (a distant cousin of Mitt
Romney, a candidate in the 2008 presidential race who was seeking the Republican nomination).
This time the calls I got were more anxious, angry. Several of those I spoke to did not want to give their names. "If you're left no other option then you have to defend your family. It's very important to protect what you have. The expectation is the government does that first. And if they can't then they leave you no option." The person did not want to elaborate but it's common knowledge many farmers and ranchers in isolated parts of Mexico have guns.
I talked to someone from the community who said the residents are "absolutely" committed to peaceful tactics. He didn't have to tell me going head to head with organized crime groups who have well stocked arsenals and commando style units would be suicide.
I'm told gunmen burst into Lebaron's home early Tuesday morning and kidnapped him. When his brother-in-law tried to stop them, the heavily armed men grabbed him too. The men's bodies were dumped with a note warning it was a revenge killing, and that the other public face of the peaceful movement, community leader Clary Jones is the next target.
"This proves it there really is no law and order in this state one resident told me."
Benji and Luis' funeral is Thursday. And I will be there to cover it. One of the community members who supported the peaceful protests told me, "our movement has its first two martyrs."
Benji LeBaron just last week attended another protest. This demonstration was sparked by the wave of kidnappings in the region that included Mr. Romney. It was much bigger, high profile. Organizers were happy hundreds turned out in spite of their fears.
Now, as family and friends prepare to bury the two men, I remember what Julian LeBaron told me on camera at the first demonstration.
"We protest because if we don't we live like lambs among wolves. And we're not willing to live like that. We're unwilling to live in fear."