La Mora, the Mormon offshoot community caught up in Mexico’s brutal drug cartel war

The innocent women and children who were massacred Monday in northern Mexico were members of a decades-old settlement founded as part of an offshoot of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

La Mora, a small community in Sonora state, where families farm pecans and raise cattle and is just a three-hour drive from the border over dirt roads, was founded by some of the original pioneers sent by the LDS Church to colonize Northern Mexico in the late 1800s, before being excommunicated by the Church.

At least six children and three women living in the faith-based community were murdered when their convoy came under fire by gunmen, believed to be cartel members.

Among those killed were Rhonita Maria LeBaron and her four children. Her burned-out bullet-ridden SUV was reportedly found outside the town of Bavispe, where the settlement is located.

Dawna Ray Langford, 43, and Christina Marie Langford, 31, were also among those killed.

The Langford family is descended from the pioneers who established “Colonia Oaxaca,” which is now called “Rancho Oaxaca,” a famous Mormon colony, and the families, including the Millers and the LaBarons, are part of remnants from that.

The majority of the dual U.S. citizens who live there go back and forth between Utah, other parts of the United States, and their community in La Mora. The women were traveling back to Utah when they were confronted by the cartels.

Lafe Langford Jr., a relative, spoke to reporters.

“It’s just huge. It’s just absolutely unimaginable,” Langford said. “This is the absolute worst nightmare for our entire existence in Mexico…and we never thought it was possible.”

He added: “There’s thousands of people affected by this. Just American citizens in Mexico, there’s thousands affected by this.”

Langford said their families have never had “even the slightest interactions with the drug cartel in the last 70 years” and that they are loved by their community, serving the Mexican people.

“What we want right now is answers. Who and why. It was an attack on innocents, women and children.”

But 10 years ago, Benjamin LeBaron, the founder of crime-fighting group SOS Chihuahua, was killed in the neighboring Chihuahua after he led protests over the kidnapping of their 16-year-old brother. The Mormons refused to pay the ransom and the young LeBaron was ultimately released.

The community of La Mora has about 350 people who live there full-time but the rest, about 800-1,000, live throughout the United States.

The community, some practicing and the majority not, were part of a family that had some relatives excommunicated from the church for polygamy but still practiced Sunday School in their homes and was not within the distance of a church to attend.

“What sets us apart from the fundamentalist groups is that we don’t claim priesthood authority and prophets and apostles outside of the Mormon Church,” Langford said. “We mainly believe the Mormon church is out of order and that’s why we’re excommunicated.”

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, whose own father was born in a Mormon settlement in Mexico, extended his condolences for the victims and called for the U.S. to get involved.

“Our prayers are with their families who have suffered such an unspeakable tragedy. The U.S. must work with Mexican officials to hold accountable those responsible for this senseless violence,” he tweeted.

A spokesman from the LDS Church confirmed that the La Mora community is an offshoot of the LDS Church.

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