The nine US citizens massacred in Mexico were mistaken for a faction of the Sinaloa cartel known as “Los Salazar” by rival gang La Línea, local officials said Wednesday.
La Línea got word some members of the Salazar crew, which operates in Sonora, were heading to Chihuahua on Monday, and decided to ambush them along a rural road between the two cities, Mexican army chief of staff Gen. Homero Mendoza told reporters.
“We can determine that this was not a direct attack (against the families),” Mendoza said, according to local outlets.
La Línea — which is an armed wing of the Juárez cartel — may have confused the group’s large SUVs for those the rival Salazar gang, who have been linked to the vicious crime ring once headed by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
“The types of vehicles [the families] used are common in that mountainous region and are used by organized crime elements,” Mendoza said.
A day before the bloodshed, La Línea gunmen had entered Sinaloa territory and set up an outpost and an ambush on the road to Chihuahua, apparently to send a message they controlled the passageway, officials said.
It was that trap the three families walked into.
The ambush consisted of two attacks more than an hour apart at two places along the road, Mendoza said.
At 9:30 a.m. a Chevy Tahoe containing a mother and her four children was riddled with bullets and burst into flames.
Then at 11 a.m., the drug thugs opened fire on two Chevy Suburbans — including one containing a 29-year-old mom who was fatally shot when she hopped out to show she wasn’t a threat.
Eight children, some just infants, survived the carnage by hiding in the brush, with some walking several miles to seek help despite their severe injuries.
Mendoza said authorities deduced the families were not targeted since “those who attacked the occupants (of the vehicles), they let the children go.”
The families were members of La Mora, a decades-old settlement in Sonora founded as part of an offshoot of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Five injured children were flown to a hospital in Arizona, while the three others, who were not wounded are being cared for by family members in the La Mora hamlet in northern Mexico.
One suspect has been arrested, officials said Wednesday. He wasn’t publicly identified.
Additional reporting by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon and Post wires
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