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World The LeBaron family: What we know about the Mormons killed in Mexico

06:25  06 november  2019
06:25  06 november  2019 Source:   abc.net.au

After the U.S. outlawed polygamy, thousands of Mormons fled to Mexico. Nine just died there.

  After the U.S. outlawed polygamy, thousands of Mormons fled to Mexico. Nine just died there. The exodus began in 1885, led by Mormons who refused to give up the practice of plural marriage.It was 1885. That year, Mark Twain published the “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” A French ship delivered the Statue of Liberty to New York City. A skyscraper went up in Chicago. And the U.S. government had just outlawed polygamy, plural marriage that critics equated with slavery.

Video provided by Associated Press

The massacre of nine American women and children has prompted US President Donald Trump to offer to help wipe Mexico's drug cartels "off the face of the Earth".

Those killed in the daytime attack, which left their vehicle bullet-riddled and charred on a dirt road, were Mexican-American Mormons who belonged to the LeBaron family.

Here's what we know about them and why the family first decided to live south of the US border.

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Members of the LeBaron family react in shock to the deaths

A relative, Julian LeBaron, told Reuters that four boys, two girls and three women were killed in the attack.

"We don't know why, though they had received indirect threats. We don't know who did it," he said.

Lafe Langford, whose aunt and cousin were killed, said that five injured children had been airlifted to a hospital in Tucson, Arizona, while a boy in critical condition had been transferred to a Phoenix hospital.

Taylor Langford, the cousin of one of the victims, called the attack a "whole new level of cartel violence".

An unverified video posted on social media showed the wreckage of the vehicle:

In the video, a man can be heard choking up as he says, "Nita and four of my grandchildren are burnt and shot up."

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a group of people sitting posing for the camera: A photo shared on Facebook shows the family of Rhonita Miller, who died with four of her children in the attack. (Facebook: Kendra Lee Miller)© Provided by Australian Broadcasting Corporation A photo shared on Facebook shows the family of Rhonita Miller, who died with four of her children in the attack. (Facebook: Kendra Lee Miller)

It's not the first time Mormons have been killed in Mexico

In 2009, Mormon activist Benjamin LeBaron and his brother-in-law Luis Carlos Widmar were murdered by drug hitmen for denouncing cartel kidnappings.

Earlier that year, according to The New York Times, a 16-year-old had been kidnapped from Colonia LeBaron (a town in Chihuahua founded by a member of the family) with a ransom set at $US1 million.

The motive of the latest attack isn't known. Mexican Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said the nine had been travelling in several SUVs and could have been victims of mistaken identity.

But the LeBaron extended family has often been in conflict with drug traffickers in Chihuahua, and other relatives of the victims said the killers surely knew who they were targeting.

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Mexico has registered more than 250,000 homicides in the last dozen years, most of them related to the drug war.

Mormonism has a long history south of the US border

In the late 19th century, many high-profile Mormon families fled Utah's anti-polygamy laws and headed to the north of Mexico.

By the time of the 1910 Mexican Revolution, there were thousands of Mormons in colonies in Chihuahua and Sonora.

There have been major setbacks — many Mormons had fled back to the United States amid the violence of that revolution — but today there are estimated to be more than a million members of the Latter-Day Saints in Mexico.

According to Jason H Dormady, writing in Just South of Zion: The Mormons in Mexico and Its Borderlands, the farming and ranching town of Colonia LeBaron remains a place where "fundamentalist Mormon polygynists continue to thrive and struggle against the narcotics violence surrounding them in the 21st century".

The LeBarons were a significant early Mormon family

Their history in the religion goes back to David Tulley LeBaron, who joined the Mormon Church around 1840, just a decade after the movement's foundation.

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David was close to founder Joseph Smith and married the sister of Smith's adopted son, Benjamin F Johnson.

According to anthropologist Janet Bennion, writing in her book Desert Patriarchy: Mormon and Mennonite Communities in the Chihuahua Valley, the LeBarons believe that Smith passed his priestly authority to Johnson, who in turn passed it on to David's son, Benjamin LeBaron.

It was Benjamin LeBaron's son, Alma Dayer LeBaron, born in Arizona in 1886, who founded Colonia LeBaron.

It was Alma Dayer's polygamy — according to Professor Bennion, he had a dream in which God told him that he would have priestly glory if he continued to practice plural marriage — that had forced him to leave for Mexico in 1924. (The Mormon Church itself stopped supporting polygamy in 1890.)

Alma Dayer LeBaron's son started breakaway movement

According to Professor Bennion, Joel LeBaron claimed to have spoken with heavenly messengers in 1955 who told him "the exact pattern to be used in setting the house of God in order".

Later that year, he said, he received a revelation from Jesus to build a new church, which he founded under the name the Church of the Firstborn of the Fulness of Times.

According to Professor Bennion, Joel was able to find hundreds of converts:

"Joel summoned all true saints of God's kingdom to leave the United States and other 'nations of Babylon' and gather in the Mexican wilderness, where the kingdom would be built anew under his divine leadership.

"New converts' bloodlines would be fused with Joel's own royal blood, as firstborn."

Like his father, Joel was a firm supporter of plural marriage.

According to The New York Times, Joel was killed in 1972 by followers of his brother Ervil, who led a "killing spree in the United States for more than 15 years".

ABC/Reuters

Teen survivor recalls horrifying details of ambush in Mexico that killed 9 .
His mother, Dawna Langford, and his brothers, Trevor, 11, and Rogan, 2, were among the nine women and children killed in the gruesome Nov. 4 attack. "They just started hitting [the] car first, like with a bunch, a bunch of bullets. Just start shooting rapidly at us," he said. "The car didn't work. So she was just trying right there, starting the car as much as she could, but I'm pretty sure they shot something so the car wouldn't even start." "Afterward, they got us out of the car, and they just got us on the floor and then they drove off," he added.

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