MEXICO CITY (3TV/CBS 5/AP/CNN) -- A suspect has not been identified in the massacre of nine family members from a Mormon community on the Mexican side of the border with the United States.
The Ministerial Agency for Criminal Investigations (AMIC) said when the arrest was made, the suspect was holding two bound and gagged hostages in the hills of Agua Priests in the state of Sonora.
The suspect had several assault rifles in their possession, including high-caliber weapons like a 50-gauge Barrett long rifle, officials said.
WHO ARE THE VICTIMS?
Seventeen people were in the three vehicles that were ambushed, three mothers and 14 children. Those killed include all three mothers, four small children and two infants, family member Alex LeBaron said from Mexico. He said all nine were dual U.S.-Mexican citizens. The victims were "all shot while in vehicles," LeBaron told CNN. Eight children survived. Five of them were shot. The survivors are being treated in a Tucson hospital.
The families lived in the community of La Mora, which is a decades-old settlement founded as part of an offshoot of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
DETAILS ON THE ATTACK
A convoy of three vehicles had set out Monday from La Mora. They were traveling between the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua when they were ambushed by the cartel that evening, Mexican authorities said. "Women and children (between 14 years old and 10 months) were massacred, burned alive," a family member told CNN. "Mothers were screaming for the fire to stop."
One relative, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, told Arizona's Family he had located a burned-out, bullet-ridden SUV containing the remains of his nephew's wife and her four children. He said he saw dozens of heavily armed gunmen near the burned-out vehicle.
Wayne Fischer, another relative, told Arizona's Family that a 13-year-old boy ran for six hours for help. He also said when the gunmen discovered that only children survived the attack, they told them to get out of the vehicles. Before running for help, the teen hid six children in bushes and covered them with branches to keep them safe. "It's horrible. The kids are traumatized, obviously, and they're not talking that much, which is all understandable based on what they've been through, based on what they've seen."
Another relative, Lafe Langford, talked about how brave the children were after the attack.
"They immediately started walking toward home and taking turns," Langford said. "These precious children were taking turns carrying their brother."
A third relative, Leah Staddon of Queen Creek, Arizona, spoke to Arizona's Family on Monday. She says her family had been talking about moving to the states permanently because of all the violence. "Things that have happened with family members being pulled over by the mafia, guns pointed at their vehicle," Staddon said. "I think a lot of us are just speechless. It's horrific," continued Staddon. "We just can't believe this actually happened to our family. It just seems like a bad dream."
Mexico's top security official, Secretary Alfonso Durazo, believes the gunmen may have mistaken the group's large SUVs for rival gangs.
However, the LeBaron family had a history of conflict with Mexican drug cartels, which indicates that they may have been targeted, former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda told CNN on Tuesday evening. "Cartels have taken too many of our family members," said family member Kendra Lee Miller, adding those killed Monday were "not the first." Miller told CNN her family has recently been threatened by cartels over where it can travel. "Their long-standing tensions, and apparently the woman who was driving in the first car that was attacked was an activist. She was someone who was very active in her community, defending her family, her fellow members of the community against cartels, on the issue of water rights," Castañeda said, describing one of the three women killed, without naming her.
The former minister also said the larger LeBaron community had been receiving the protection of 90 federal police stationed around the community since 2011 because of tensions between the family and cartels. That protection was withdrawn to some extent by the current government earlier this year, according to Castañeda. It's unclear whether all 90 policemen were withdrawn or just some of them, he added.
In a news conference earlier Tuesday, Mexican Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said the attack may have been a case of mistaken identity of "conflicting groups in the area."
But Castañeda told CNN that he finds that theory unlikely, especially as two cars in two different locations carrying members of the same family were attacked in the same manner.
PRESIDENT TRUMP RESPONDS TO KILLINGS
President Trump tweeted about the attacks on Tuesday morning. He said he is offering Mexico's government unspecified help to "wage war" on drug cartels. "This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth. We merely await a call from your great new president!" Trump said in a series of tweets addressing the tragedy. Trump said the U.S. government stands ready to get involved. "The cartels have become so large and powerful that you sometimes need an army to defeat an army!"
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent Arizona's Family the following statement:
"We are heartbroken to hear of the tragedy that has touched these families in Mexico. Though it is our understanding that they are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, our love, prayers and sympathies are with them as they mourn and remember their loved ones."