(ABC NEWS) — At least nine members of an American family, including six children, were killed in an attack in northern Mexico on Monday, the Mexican military has confirmed.
The family was ambushed by an armed group while traveling from the town of Galeana in Chichuahua state to Bavispe in Sonora state between 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. local time, according to Mexico’s security minister, Alfonso Durazo.
The area where the attack took place — less than 100 miles from the Arizona border — is of territorial dispute by several cartels, and it’s possible the family’s convoy of cars was mistaken for one, Durazo said at a press conference Tuesday morning.
Three women and six children were killed in the ambush. Six other children survived the massacre and were left injured, while another remains missing, according to Durazo.
The family members were U.S. citizens but lived in a Mormon community in the Mexican border state of Sonora, according to a relative, Leah Staddon, who was born and raised in the same community but now lives in Arizona. She said her family, although American, has lived in Mexico for decades and they are all dual citizens.
On the morning of the attack, a group left the community in Bavispe to drive to a wedding in Chihuahua state, according to Staddon.
“Everyone’s just in complete and utter shock,” Staddon told ABC News in a Skype interview Monday night. “It has been pretty violent down there for a while and now that it has hit our family, I just want people to know out here how bad it has gotten.”
Another relative, Julian LeBaron, told ABC News he went to the scene with authorities to help collect the bodies of the dead and look for the ones who survived. LeBaron confirmed that several women and children were among those killed.
Mexico’s Secretariat of Security and Civilian Protection has announced via Twitter the “strengthening of the state force” in the town of Bavispe “following the allegations of disappearance and assault of several people traveling to La Mora.” Members of the country’s national guard, army and state police have been deployed to the region to conduct a “search operation,” the agency said.
When asked for comment, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State told ABC News, “We are aware of these reports. The safety and welfare of U.S. citizens abroad is among the Department of State’s top priorities. When a U.S. citizen is missing or passes away overseas, we engage with local officials at multiple levels and provide all appropriate consular assistance.”
U.S. President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday morning to address the brutal attack and offered to help Mexico flush out “these monsters.”
“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,” Trump tweeted. “We merely await a call from your great new president!”
Claudia Pavlovich Arellano, the governor of Mexico’s Sonora state, also mentioned the massacre in a tweet Tuesday, vowing to use all her power to not let the crimes go “unpunished” and to make “those responsible pay.”
“I don’t know what kind of monsters dare to hurt women and children,” Pavlovich tweeted.