Benjamin LeBaron, who called for more protection from the Mexican government in May after his younger brother was abducted from Colonia LeBaron, was taken by intruders and killed with another man early Tuesday.
LeBaron, 32, was taken from his home in Galeana, near Colonia LeBaron. The community is named for his great-grandfather, who moved to Mexico in the 1920s after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began cracking down on plural marriage.
While today's residents have been working in concert to demand greater protection from rebels, LeBaron took on a more prominent role -- something that likely made him a target, said his cousin, Brent LeBaron Jr., who lives in Colonia LeBaron.
Chihuahua state legislator Victor Quintana, who was driving to the community Tuesday, said he believed the killings were a "terrorist act" aimed at intimidating the residents.
Brent LeBaron told The Salt Lake Tribune that five or six men surrounded LeBaron's home at about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday. They began breaking windows and pounding on the door, demanding to be let in and threatening to use a hand grenade to destroy the home, he said.
Once inside, the men severely beat LeBaron, his cousin said, and attempted to rape his wife.
A neighbor saw what was happening and called Luis Jose and Lawrence Widmar, LeBaron's brothers-in-law who live nearby, according to a relative of the Widmars.
Luis Jose Widmar arrived and was also seized and beaten. The men then loaded LeBaron and Luis Jose Widmar into their vehicles.
By then, Lawrence Widmar had pulled up in his truck, which was strafed with machine gun fire, Brent LeBaron said.
LeBaron and Luis Jose Widmar were found on a highway about four miles away that runs by a cemetery. Both had been fatally shot.
Brent LeBaron said a note found with their bodies contained a warning to the LeBarons and the town's former mayor, saying the killings were retaliation for the recent arrests of 25 men from the town of Nicholas Bravo.
Mexican police alleged the Nicholas Bravo men had been involved in kidnappings and extortion.
Brent LeBaron said the residents of Colonia LeBaron had nothing to do with that action.
"We've been fighting kidnapping and extortion," he said. "We have not got into trying to fight the drug cartels. All we are looking for is a peaceful life, not affected by criminality."
Last week, LeBaron spoke at the graduation ceremony for a new group of police cadets, praising the government's effort. The only other speaker was the governor of Chihuahua.
He also acted as a spokesman in May after his younger brother was kidnapped and held for a $1 million ransom. Eric LeBaron, 16, was released after about a week.
Quintana met with LeBaron at the time of Eric LeBaron's kidnapping, and the legislator said they also later spoke of the need to push the Mexican government to provide more security to the area.
"It's a terrorist act," Quintana said, "to intimidate the communities that want to organize and do the same [as LeBaron], and also to warn the military that if they continue to arrest people like the young men from Nicholas Bravo, they will continue to kill people."
He said he supports the demands Colonia LeBaron has made for more protection and security by the Mexican military.
"More intelligence efforts are needed," Quintana said. "Much more involvement by authorities -- who have been absent."
LeBaron leaves behind his wife, Miriam, and five sons, all under the age of 8. He worked on a family-owned pecan farm and also operated a freighting business.
Luis Jose Widmar, who was 29, is survived by his wife, Rose, four sons and a daughter.
"No one expected" the killings, Brent LeBaron said. "We kind of felt we were a little at risk, but never thought these brutes would come in like this."
The two men, he said, died "for a great cause."
"Benjamin had the savvy for speaking so he did speak a little more than he should have," Brent LeBaron said. "It's been a community effort. We tried to make it so not just one person was targeted."
LeBaron had advocated a firm stand against ransom demands from the kidnappers, whom he believed might have been former drug runners for a drug cartel.
While his brother was missing, LeBaron led a protest in Chihuahua to demand the government act to protect people in Colonia LeBaron, in Galeana, which has about 1,500 residents. After meeting with the governor of Chihuahua in May, LeBaron felt the community's plea had been heard.
"We feel that we had a lot of success today. We feel our purpose has been established," he told The Tribune .
Brent LeBaron said the Mexican government had assigned about 10 officers and investigators to the community following the protest.
On Tuesday, a contingent from the Mexican army was in the town to investigate the murders, Brent LeBaron said. They also were standing guard around LeBaron's home.
"We are definitely getting some help here, but the main thing is to find these men who were so ruthless to do this and serve them justice," he said.
Last month, Mexican gunmen kidnapped Meredith Romney, a former LDS Church leader, from his ranch near Janos, Chihuahua.
The gunmen shot out the tires of Romney's truck and forced him into their vehicle, leaving his wife and grandson behind, according to a news report.
The abductors held Romney for a day before releasing him unharmed. Romney was president of the Colonia Juárez Chihuahua Temple from 1999 to 2004, according to Ensign magazine's church news reports archived on the LDS Church Web site.