An ex-police officer alleged to be the leader of the violent La Linea drug cartel in Chihuahua, Mexico, is in custody for the murder of three American mothers and six children including 8-month-old twins, who were killed in a fiery attack on their convoy of SUVs last November.
Roberto Gonzalez Montes—known in crime circles as Mudo or El 32—was taken into custody late Monday in a top-secret joint-forces operation carried out by the attorney general’s office without state help out of fear Montes would be tipped off by corrupt officials.
Last November, attackers fired on a convoy of SUVs carrying 17 mothers and children—all dual Mexican American citizens—as they drove from their compound in Sonora to a wedding in Chihuahua. The cars were riddled with bullets and set on fire, killing nine people. The rest of those in the convoy escaped into desert terrain and hid out until they were rescued.
The family members were part of the LeBaron family and belonged to an offshoot Mormon group that settled in the Mexican border state of Sonora half a century ago. They were frequently involved in scuffles with drug cartels who feared they would report illegal activity near their compound to authorities.
The victims included Rhonita Miller LeBaron, 30, her son, 13, daughter, 11 and 8-month old twins. Christina and Dawna Langford, 43, and two of Dawna’s children, age 11 and 3 also died. The babies did not suffer gunshot wounds but were burned alive when the perpetrators ignited their vehicles.
Mexican authorities have never revealed a motive for the attack. Some have speculated that the family was simply caught in the crossfire of rival cartels as they drove along a rural road. The road ran straight through the territory under the control of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel which at the time was in fierce battles with the La Linea, to which Montes was said to have belonged.
The victims’ family instead says the attack was an “ambush” based on accounts by the survivors, including many of the children. In 2009, the LeBaron family took a stand against a cartel in Chihuahua after a 16-year-old member of the community was kidnapped and held for a $1 million ransom. The family refused to pay the ransom and instead waged a public campaign to pressure the government to take action and secure the boy’s release which ultimately happened with no money exchanged.
“This was no crossfire,” Alex Le Baron, an elected deputy to the Chihuahua state legislature, told Mexico’s W Radio. “It couldn’t have been a mistake,” he said. “This is terrorism, plain and simple.”
Montes’ arrest is the second in a month after Jose Lara was captured in connection with the attack on November 5, the one-year anniversary of the massacre. Two other suspects thought to have ancillary roles were arrested earlier this month.