Mexico City — Mexican authorities announced Wednesday that a heavily-armed man arrested close to where a deadly ambush of nine Americans took place was not connected to the case. The state prosecutor’s office in Sonora state, in northern Mexico, said earlier that the suspect’s link to the grisly crime was “being analyzed.”
Sources have told CBS News the victims may have been targeted by a drug cartel. Some of the survivors remained hospitalized Wednesday morning with gunshot wounds.
Three women and six children were killed, including 8-month-old twins. They all belonged to a break-away group once associated with the Mormon Church.
The Sonora prosecutor’s office said the person arrested was found in a vehicle with two other people who were bound and gagged. Those unidentified individuals were rescued, and four assault-style weapons, spent magazines and high-caliber ammunition, were seized. Two vehicles were seized separately, including one said to have been armored.
Alfonso Durazo, a public security official, said preliminary information indicates that the suspect has no ties to the murder.
Mexican officials said the family might have been mistakenly caught in a battle between two rival gangs, a theory also put forth by President Donald Trump in a tweet early Tuesday. But CBS News sources said the leading scenario is that the extended family was deliberately targeted.
Lending credibility to that theory is the fact that the ambush was drawn out over time, and miles, and continued after witnesses say one woman identified herself to the gunmen.
Taylor Langford is the nephew of one of the women killed in the brazen ambush. He and other family members also wonder if the attack was intentional.
“Three vehicles with women and children in broad daylight. There was no mistaken identity,” he told CBS News on Tuesday. “I felt this was in broad daylight and … no one could have done that not knowing what they were doing.”
Women and kids gunned down
Among the dead are 30-year-old Rhonita Miller and her children, 12-year-old Howard Junior, 10-year-old Krystal and 8-month-old twins Titus and Tiana. The SUV they were traveling in was hit with so many rounds that the gas tank exploded. Video showed the charred remains of the vehicle by the side of the road in a remote desert region, about 100 miles from the U.S. border.
A relative has said that when he took too long to return, his 9-year-old sister Mckenzie left her siblings behind and walked for hours in the dark before she was found.
Some of the surviving children were airlifted from the scene and brought to a hospital in Tucson, Arizona, for treatment.
Cody, 8, was shot in the jaw and leg. Fourteen-year-old Kylie was shot in the foot and 4-year-old Xander was shot in the back. Brixton, just 8 months old, sustained a gunshot wound in the chest.
Mexico declines help to “wage war”
On Twitter, President Trump offered condolences and military aid to Mexico.
“This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels,” Mr. Trump wrote.
This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth. We merely await a call from your great new president!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 5, 2019
Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador respectfully declined, saying it was an issue for his country to address independently.
Drug-related violence is nothing new in Mexico, but this attack has shown cartel gunmen becoming increasingly unconcerned about children being killed in the crossfire.
Mark Strassmann contributed to this report.