Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador dedicated a monument Thursday to the memory of three mothers and six children with Utah ties who were ambushed and slain on Nov. 4, 2019, by suspected drug gang assassins.
The monument was erected in the small town of La Mora, in the Mexican state of Sonora, near the site where the groups were ambushed along a rural road.
The Mexican-American victims were members of a community of people who worship as an offshoot of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The community’s origins date to the official end of polygamy by the LDS Church over a century ago, which prompted many families that continued the practice to establish colonies elsewhere. Many of those in northern Mexico have by now, over the generations, abandoned polygamy as well.
The monument reflects the community’s roots and religious beliefs. A figure apparently depicting the Angel Moroni stands atop a swirling column, at the bottom of which are figures of the victims.
Although the community is not formally affiliated with the LDS Church, many La Mora residents have family ties to Utah. Sen. Mike Lee called for sanctions against Mexican drug cartels after the massacre.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a news release after the shooting, saying it was “heartbroken” at the deaths.
“Though it is our understanding that they are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” the statement said, “our love, prayers and sympathies are with them as they mourn and remember their loved ones.”
Amber Ray, the sister of victim Dawna Ray Langford, said the monument was “a reminder that, even in a time of great tragedy, we can unite and defend ourselves against violence.”
Initial investigations suggest that a squad of gunmen from a drug gang that originated in the border city of Ciudad Juarez set up the ambush to kill members of a rival cartel. However, relatives of the victims say that at some point, the gunmen must have known who they were killing.
Mexican authorities say that 17 suspects have been arrested, and that 15 more arrest warrants for other suspects have been issued.
López Obrador said the killings showed the need to offer young people in Mexico education and job opportunities, so they would not be recruited by drug gangs. In the meantime, he said, “we are going to continue [with investigations] until the whole truth comes out, and justice is done.”
In fact, few of the average of about 100 homicides that occur every day in Mexico receive the attention, investigation or prosecution that the massacre of the dual citizens has gotten.
But the president pledged that the era when officials would ally themselves with one drug gang to attack another had ended.
Sonora state Gov. Claudia Pavlovich said the new monument “is a testament to the need that this never be forgotten, that this always be remembered, and that it never be repeated.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.