A cousin of the Mormon family killed by Mexican cartel members in La Mora, Sonora, Mexico told The Rundown News that the Los Salazar cartel targeted her family intentionally, and knew they were not members of the rival La Línea cartel, as much of the media have reported.
Elisa Steele, who was born in Colonia Le Barón in the Chihuahua state, where members of the slain Mormon family maintain a colony, is a second cousin of victim Rhonita Miller and a first cousin of victims Christina Johnson and Dawna Langford by way of marriage. Miller and her four children, including her infant twins, along with Johnson, Langford, and two other young family members were killed in the attack.
The family lived in the La Mora, Sonora colony, a different colony from the one in which Steele grew up. Both colonies are part of the Mormon Church of the Firstborn.
La Línea, an affiliate of the infamous Juarez Cartel, operates out of Chihuahua, while Los Salazar operates out of La Mora. Los Salazar is affiliated with one of the world’s most dangerous cartels, the Sinaloa.
“These three women and their children – they were driving, and they don’t know what side exactly, but they speculate that it was the Chihuahua side of the cartels, came in and purposely targeted these women and children, although we don’t know why,” Steele told The Rundown News by phone. “And then after, they ran off. It wasn’t until after hearing the explosion of the car and gunshots that men on the Sonora side woke up, and then a crossfire between the Sonora and Chihuahua sides began.”
“There was no crossfire in the beginning,” Steele said. “There was no ‘getting caught in the crossfire they happened to drive through.’ That is totally false. We also know that there was targeting because of firsthand, eyewitness accounts from the children.”
Steele said that a 14-year-old member of the family saw Johnson get out of the car – after stashing her infant child under the seat, saving the child’s life – and waved her arms at firing cartel members in an attempt to let them know that they were innocents. The cartel kept firing, and shot Johnson twice in the heart, according to Steele.
“All of these vehicles don’t have terribly tinted windows,” Steele said. “They could have easily seen this is women and children.”
Steele also explained that authorities found bullet casings on top of the vehicles, proving, she says, that the family was fired upon from close range, a fact she says has not been reported by the media. She also said that the torched vehicle did not burst into flames from gunfire, as has been reported, but rather was torched purposefully after the shooting.
“They knowingly attacked women and children,” Steele said. “This was not crossfire.”
The BBC speculated that one motive for La Línea’s brutal attack could have been to make sure the family was not aligning itself with Los Salazar. Steele could not confirm a motive, but was steadfast in her proclamation that the killings were no accident.
The Mexican government tried to minimize the event in its immediate aftermath.
“To our best speculation, the Mexican government is terribly embarrassed that this has happened. They’re terribly embarrassed that this is so out of control,” Steele said. “You can even see – the day after this happened they tried to say that they caught the murderers. They tried to blame it on two people they caught in Arizona, and they were saying ‘we caught them, we caught them. Please stop talking about this. Settle down.'”
That was a lie. Steele said that the family “rolled their eyes” knowing that “those people had nothing to do with us.”
“They quickly dropped that story because no one was believing it,” she continued. “So of course [the Mexican government] has tried to say it was two cartels shooting at each other and [the family] got caught up in the action. That’s not what happened. From the very beginning my family has known that is not the case.”
Steele said that though the area had been peaceful for years, the ongoing cartel wars had picked up over the past few months, and her family noticed. They became increasingly aware of the violence around them, and even stopped traveling at night to avoid potential danger.
She said that on the day of the attack, the family, though traveling to different destinations, was driving together in a caravan until they had to split up.
Steele, who lives in the United States (members of Colonia Le Barón and the Church of the Firstborn have dual citizenship) also cleared up some rumors which she called inaccurate, namely that her family is somehow connected to the NXIVM sex cult. They are not. The colony is also not polygamous, as the media have reported in what Steele sees as an effort to paint them as fringe separatists and downplay the incident.
It was reported Monday that Mexican authorities captured more suspects in the massacre.