AILSA CHANG, HOST:
And now to Mexico and a horrific killing. Gunmen in a remote area in northern Mexico ambushed vehicles carrying members of an extended Mormon family. Nine people - all women and children - were killed. The White House says they were all American citizens. President Trump offered in a tweet to send in troops to, quote, "wage war" on drug cartels and to wipe them off the face of the Earth. Mexico's president rejected that offer. NPR's Carrie Kahn joins us now with more on this story.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi.
CHANG: So can you give us a little more detail on what happened here?
KAHN: Sure. From accounts from relatives and the Mexican government today, it seems there were three vehicles traveling in a convoy to another one in an - in these northern border states of Chihuahua and Sonora. Both communities are not far from the U.S. southern border. There were three women driving three cars with 14 children in total in the cars, and they came under fire at around 1 p.m. yesterday afternoon. One of the cars was riddled with bullets and completely incinerated. In that car was one mother with four of her seven children; two of the children were month-old twins.
The other two cars, it's a little bit more murky. And these accounts are from local press reports and also from relatives posting on social media. It appears they - two cars were stopped further up the country road. The women were killed, some of the children, too. But others were able to escape and hide in bushes for hours until they were found. Two of the children reportedly tried to set off on foot and get help, walking for hours. It was just a horrific scene that we've been told about.
CHANG: Yeah. Can you tell us a little more about this family? I understand that they were members of a settlement founded as an offshoot of The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (ph).
KAHN: This community in the northern region of Mexico calls themselves Mormons, and they've lived there for decades. The communities were settled there in the early part of the 20th century as a breakaway sect set on practicing polygamy. NPR contacted The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah, who said the group in Mexico are not members of their church. The practice of polygamy in the Mexican community has faded somewhat, but many members are related and move back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico.
What's important to know is several members of this community have been outspoken advocates against drug violence and extortion in the region, and two members of the community were kidnapped and murdered in the late 2000s for standing up to the gangs.
CHANG: Wow. And this drug war that's happening in this area - what are the cartels that are in this war? And what is this war about?
KAHN: It's a very conflictive area between the two northern Mexican states. It's because the drug smuggling routes into southern Arizona and southern New Mexico from there are very lucrative and highly contested.
Mexico's security minister, at a morning press conference today, talked about the multiple confrontations that take place in that region and have for years between rival gangs. He said it's believed that this was a case of mistaken identity by one of those rival gangs. The attorney general of the state of Chihuahua has also been speculating the same and even named some of the dominant gangs in the region. One is an offshoot of the Sinaloa cartel.
But the president of Mexico, in that same press conference this morning, warned against any speculation. He said advances have been made in the investigation but let's not say anymore and give time for more information to come out.
CHANG: Right. So as we said, Mexico's president rejected Trump's offer to send in U.S. troops. How did President Obrador explain why he rejected that offer?
KAHN: He tweeted this afternoon that he has had a conversation with President Trump and again thanked him for his willingness to assist in the matter. But Lopez Obrador said he also told Trump that the institutions of the Mexican government will seek justice in this matter.
Lopez Obrador has come under a lot of criticism for his handling of Mexico's security situation - the skyrocketing violence and especially his passive approach to dealing with the drug cartels. He repeatedly says you cannot put out fire with fire, and he criticizes the approach of past administrations to attack the kingpins of the cartels and to go after the gangs. He says violence just attracts more violence.
CHANG: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City.
KAHN: You're welcome.
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