A Utah man who helped get his mother and other family members safely out of northern Mexico after nine people were killed in an apparent ambush said Sunday that most fled to Arizona with whatever they could fit in their cars and trucks and they'll likely never return.
Clad in suits or modest dresses, hundreds embraced in grief under white tents erected in the hamlet as a mother and her two sons were the first to be laid to rest.
Tucked away in the fertile valleys of the Sierra Madre mountains a few hours drive south from the US border, the communities stem from the late 1800s, when upheaval over polygamy in the Utah-based church led to their founding. Farmers and teenage boys carried the coffins.
The families came almost a week after the attack Monday in which nine women and children were killed by what authorities said were hit men from drug cartels.
Initial investigations by Mexican authorities suggest the attack was a case of mistaken identity by a drugs cartel, but the victims' families dispute this.
Dawna Ray Langford, 43, and her sons Trevor, 11, and Rogan, 2, were killed in the attack after a hail of bullets struck their SUV on a dirt road leading to another settlement, Colonia LeBaron.
It happened in a hail of bullets Monday on a rural road in violent Sonora state along the U.S. border.
There was no talk of revenge in the deeply religious community, only justice.
David Langford called his wife a hero for telling her children to duck as their vehicle came under fire.
"Until there's answers, she's not bringing her kids", Darger, of Salt Lake City, said after traveling to La Mora for the funerals. "I'm not blaming one place or another".
"Dawna was a person who was full of life".
However, the community's troubles reached a peak earlier this week when three women and six children were killed and five people injured in a shooting spree by hitmen allegedly linked to organized crime.
Inside, they saw the charred remains of Rhonita Miller, 30, her 10-year-old daughter, a son, 12, and her 8-month-old twins.
In a grassy backyard before hundreds of attendees, she was eulogized as an "innocent spirit, lovely heart" and a woman whose laugh "could light up a room".
"The details that are coming from them are just - they're just hard to hear, the heroic actions, the loneliness they felt in those mountains for hours and hours all shot up and wounded, carrying each other in their arms".
Patrols of Mexican army troops passed by regularly on the hamlet's only paved road, providing security that was lacking the day of the killings.
Adrian LeBaron, whose daughter and grandma perished in the assault, reflected the perspectives of other relatives who stated they had small religion in Mexico's judicial system and national authorities, but still expects the nation will rise to the struggle.
Colonia LeBaron has been largely peaceful since the 2009 killing of one of its members who was an anti-crime activist prompted Mexican authorities to establish a security base.
"I mean, what they went through, what they experienced, I don't - we don't have the capacity just to imagine what these children went through".
Kenny Miller, Rhonita Miller's father-in-law, said she was "like an angel" and the children "little angels".
To many, the bloodshed seemed to demonstrate once more that the government has lost control over vast areas of Mexico to drug traffickers.
Since coming to power a year ago, Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's security strategy has been to emphasize "hugs not bullets" to combat drug-related violence in the country.
"I know that what they died for is going to help this country to have more freedom", said Jennifer Langford, a relative of Christina. "A lot of people are going to leave".