November 10, 2019 / 12:32 PM / 2 days ago

Mexico massacre unites Mormon sects, even their exiles

(Reuters) - WhatsApp messages flooded Amber Bostwick’s phone last Tuesday as relatives sent harrowing accounts of the slaughter of nine women and children by drug cartel gunmen in northern Mexico.

The 35-year-old Seattle homemaker had spent much of her life trying to keep away from her parents’ self-described fundamentalist branch of the Mormon faith and Colonia LeBaron - her polygamist father’s Mexico community where some of the massacre victims were from.

But as she listened to the terror of relatives, she realized this threatened her Mexican-American half-siblings who live in Colonia LeBaron and nearby Mormon offshoot communities.

So she got online and started posting news of the killings and promoting a GoFundMe page set up by her brother for victims.

“The massacre has simply allowed me to support and love family,” said Bostwick, a convert to Christianity, whose mother was 15 when she gave birth to her, and who was later adopted by her U.S. grandparents.

The Nov. 4 killings have traumatized northern Mexico’s breakaway Mormon communities. Some dual-nationality families headed for the safety of the United States on Saturday after the last of their dead were buried.

But the deaths also brought together different Mormon groups, and even those who fled them, to demand that not only Mexico or the United States but an international taskforce intervene in the country’s endemic violence.

“They need to send experts in building a state of law,” said Adrian LeBaron, 58, of Colonia LeBaron, who lost his daughter Rhonita and four grandchildren in the attack. “I don’t want snipers, I want educators.”

‘WHATEVER IT TAKES’

Most of the victims of Monday’s massacre were from La Mora, a remote Mormon-linked farming village in Sonora around 80 miles (130 km) south of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Lafe Langford of La Mora, a relative of those killed, said many of his community are lapsed Mormons, few are in polygamous relationships and residents do not tolerate the kind of Mormon prophets Colonia LeBaron has a history of.

Both La Mora and Colonia leBaron were formed last century by “outcast” Mormons whose polygamist beliefs were rejected by the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Houses are seen in LeBaron, Chihuahua, Mexico November 9, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

“We’re going to have to put aside our religious differences and focus on basic rights like liberty and justice,” said LeBaron, whose father was a prophet, and who has four wives, and until Monday, 39 children and 79 grandchildren.

Langford agreed, saying not only the communities, but Mexico and the United States had to work together on security.

“We call on both countries to unite and bring in the right qualified personnel to do whatever it takes,” said Langford, 33, who splits his time between La Mora and Louisiana. He is fearful at present to settle permanently in Mexico with his seven children.

‘INDIGNANT MEN’

La Mora had previously been spared violence that has killed more than 250,000 Mexicans since 2007 and touched Colonia LeBaron.

But on Monday La Mora’s Miller, Langford and Johnson families suffered the same agony relatives in Colonia LeBaron felt 10 years ago when Benjamin LeBaron and his brother-in-law Luis Widmar were murdered after they stood up to cartel violence.

Long united by marriages, the communities were pushed closer together as they faced the choice of protecting families, or fleeing homes and farms built over three generations.

Rosa LeBaron Abbate, another woman who left the fundamentalist faith, said difficult times were coming for Colonia LeBaron and La Mora.

“There are a lot of indignant men in both communities, young, they’re going to make a plan, possibly that includes the help of both countries,” said LeBaron Abbate, 65. She returned to her birthplace Colonia LeBaron 13 years ago after living in the United States for more than three decades.

LeBaron Abbate, who manages a Christian church in Colonia LeBaron with her American pastor husband, said she only fully processed the “trauma of childhood” in a “fully fundamentalist Mormon town” when she converted to Christianity at age 42.

She said Mexico had to bury its pride and accept help from the United States or a group of nations.

“They have to wipe these bad men out of Mexico, just like the coalition that goes in to Syria and these places,” said LeBaron Abbate, adding that she now has strong relationships with all her family’s different “sects.”

Slideshow (22 Images)

Back in Seattle, Bostwick said her social media posts on the massacre had connected her with distant relatives in Mexico.

She had previously built resentments among some of them by speaking up against “the atrocities” of her parents’ religion, such as polygamy and underage marriage.

“This is, and is going to, bring the different groups closer together,” Bostwick said of the massacre.

Reporting By Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Colonia LeBaron, Mexico; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Frances Kerry

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