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'Suspect' in U.S. family attack in Mexico was not involved, police say

By
Nicholas Sakelaris
Agents of the Rural Tactical Operations Forces search Tuesday for the persons responsible for an attack on an American family in Bavispe, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Luis Torres/EPA-EFE
Agents of the Rural Tactical Operations Forces search Tuesday for the persons responsible for an attack on an American family in Bavispe, Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Luis Torres/EPA-EFE

Nov. 7 (UPI) -- A man Mexican authorities arrested as a suspect in the shooting deaths this week of nine U.S. citizens is not involved in the brazen ambush, investigators said.

Police said the suspect was armed and holding two hostages at the time of his arrest on Tuesday. Mexican security official Alfonso Durazo, however, said Wednesday he is not connected to the attack.

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Mexican authorities continue their hunt for the person or persons behind the assault Monday, in which nine American family members were shot dead in broad daylight on the border of Sonora and Chihuahua states in northwest Mexico. All were dual U.S.-Mexico citizens who lived in Arizona.

Investigators are still looking into the shooting, during which more than 200 rounds were fired from an AR-15 assault rifle, and trying to determine whether the family was deliberately targeted -- given its ties to a fundamentalist Mormon sect with a violent history. Police are also looking into the possibility the family was caught in the middle of a gang war.

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Defense chief of staff Gen. Homero Mendoza Ruiz said two gangs staged a major shootout in the same area, near the U.S.-Mexico border, shortly before the family of six children and three women were killed Monday. Officials identified the gangs as Los Salazar and La LĂ­nea. Several other children were also shot, but survived the attack.

The vehicle driven by Rhonita Miller, 30, was hit so many times its gas tank exploded and caught fire. She and her four children, ages 12, 10, and eight-month-old twins, were killed. Two more vehicles with family members were attacked about 10 miles down the road.

Chihuahua Attorney General Cesar Peniche Espejel said the newly formed Los Jaguares cartel could also be responsible. The group is an offshoot of the Sinaloa drug cartel, which fragmented after the U.S. capture and conviction of kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

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Relative Lafe Langford has disputed claims that the family, which first migrated to Mexico in the 1920s to escape the U.S. ban on polygamy, had fought previously with drug cartels.

"It's so far from the truth," Langford said. "The only thing they were activists for was their children, the education of their children and their homesteads."

The FBI has offered to help with the investigation and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he plans to talk with President Donald Trump about the investigation.

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"I will thank him for his support and we will discuss if we need assistance," Obrador said. "I do not believe that we will. It's Mexico's responsibility."

The victims of Monday's shooting were extended members of the LeBaron family, a fundamentalist Mormon group linked to numerous killings in the 1980s. They were on their way to a wedding when they were attacked.

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