Until this week, living as an American in one of Mexico's most lawless areas meant keeping up with the traffickers: "Basically, it was 'We won't bother you if you don't bother us,'" said Adam Langford, whose the great-grandfather was one of the first American Mormons to move to Mexico in 1880.
Then, on Monday, it became clear that no agreement could isolate La Mora from the growing violence in Mexico. That morning, gunmen stopped three vehicles on a dirt road outside the city and killed three women and six children, shooting at close range babies and targeting a mother as she prayed for the lives of her children.
The Mexican Government suggests that the vehicles were attacked in error. But here in La Mora, this explanation makes little sense ̵
1; and infuriates the residents.
They believe that the families were deliberately targeted by a cartel from the neighboring state of Chihuahua – perhaps as revenge for the community's closeness to the local cartel in Sonora, where La Mora is located. The slaughter comes amid a growing war with turtles between cartels that residents have been watching nervously for more than a year.
"We watched things get tougher, but we thought the same thing we always did – they won't come after the Americans," said Amber Langford, 43, a midwife in La Mora. a checkpoint and they would ask what we have. We would say 'dear' or 'potatoes' and they would let us go. "
La Mora was created in the 1950s, part of the movement of fundamentalist Mormons, separated from the main church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and they have remained bare for decades pit cut off from the US and the rest of Mexico without electricity or running water.The children weld their own bicycles with metal rods.
Residents develop pecan farms and ranches and return money from seasonal work across the border until the 1990s. The community thrived in the past century.They built homes designed for American suburbs.
When friends in the United States asked about their safety, many explained that they rarely locked their doors. They allowed their children to wander for free at the foot of the Sierra Madre. They had two schools – one for Spanish and one for English – and the students of both languages shared their time evenly.
But among the idyll, the people of La Mora recognized the strategic importance of their community. It was located directly along an impassable dirt road leading to the border with the United States, a gem in the crown of every trafficker.
In 2009, two men related to La Mora's family but living in Chihuahua were abducted and killed, allegedly by the state's largest drug cartel. The shock was, suggesting that perhaps dual community citizenship was not enough to isolate American Mormons in northern Mexico from the growing violence.
But many of them believed that their unlikely connection to a cartel in their state would protect them. Although there was little police presence in the area, some felt that the cartel – sometimes known as the Sonora Cartel – had come to serve as a type of police force in the shadows.
"The fact is that the state did not provide the law and you are welcome, but the cartel did it," said Adam Langford, two-time mayor of the municipality.
Sometimes the checkpoint men will apologize after being stopped. ] "They would say, 'Sorry guys, we're just guarding our territory,'" says Kenneth Miller, 32,
. In recent months, there have been signs that peace is worsening. For the first time, a local cartel has asked La Mora families to stop to buy fuel in Chihuahua, which will fund the rival cartel These men kept the usual checkpoints. Jumpers appeared, sometimes pointing weapons at passers-by.
"People started asking each other, 'Is it time to go back to the US?'," said Amber Langford. 100.
In most of Mexico, the power of the cartels – and the inability of the government to control their influence – is monitored on a daily basis.
The number of homicides rose to 33 341 last year, another 40,000 died.
In all this, President Andres Manuel López Obrador opposes calls for strengthening his security policies. Instead, he tries to provide jobs to lure people away from cartels. He gave out millions of scholarships to stay in school.
"We will not change the strategy," he reiterated on Thursday. "We will continue to address the causes behind insecurity and violence."
The people of La Mora have taken their own precautionary measures. They began traveling in convoys as they moved between Sonora and Chihuahua. They decided it was time to provide a legitimate firearm.
On Monday, when three women and their children left town, Ronita Miller paused before leaving. She told her mother-in-law, Loreta Miller, "I have a bad feeling about it. Maybe I shouldn't go. "
Less than an hour later, Ronita Miller was killed with her four children. When the occupants found her car, she caught fire, apparently set on fire by the gunmen.
The remaining victims were found later. Two surviving children walked for hours in the desert after escaping. One of them said that the gunners fired at him as he bumped into the brush.
Within hours, the massacre sent a shockwave through Mexico and the United States, renewing questions about Mexico's failure to secure its territory, prompting President Trump to offer firepower to the US military.
The residents of La Mora begin preparations for funerals. They made wooden coffins. Amber Langford, the midwife who delivered the murdered children, has already embalmed their bodies.
As the community mourned, members became aware of how their ordeal intensified the debate over ending the years of the bloodshed in Mexico.
"I'm not saying I want the US to come here to avenge their family," said Kenneth Miller, whose daughter-in-law was killed. "But to help all of Mexico."
For now, their quiet city is flooded with Mexican security officials. The troops will inevitably leave in the coming weeks. Everyone here agrees: Any withdrawal from violence, in a civil war between cartels, is only temporary.
"The question we all have here," said Adam Langford, "is how does this thing end?"
Mary Beth Sheridan of Mexico City contributed to this report.