Possible Suspect in Mormon Family Cartel Attack Arrested, Say Police

Mexican federal police in Sonora. (File Photo: ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
File Photo: ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images

A cartel operative potentially linked to the Monday attack near the Arizona-New Mexico border area with Sonora was arrested in Agua Prieta later that day. The man held two bound and gagged kidnapping victims, several firearms, and ammunition in his vehicle. The earlier narco-terror attack left nine Mormon family members with dual citizenship dead–all women and children.

The capture occurred at approximately 6pm local time Monday after elements of the Mexican Army and the Sonora State Police observed two trucks speeding in the rural community of Ejido Zaragoza near Agua Prieta. The vehicles were traveling near a gully when the security elements attempted to stop the trucks. After a short chase, they came to a stop and one of the occupants fled into the desert. The second driver was taken into custody. Investigators identified the suspect as Leonardo “N.”

Inside a white 2019 Dodge Ram, two bound and gagged kidnap victims were found. A further search of the Dodge resulted in the discovery of three rifles, including a Barret .50 caliber. Also found were over 9,000 various rounds of ammunition. The Ram was reported stolen from Phoenix earlier this year. The second truck, a 2011 GMC Yukon, held three additional rifles and 15 extra magazines. According to investigators, one of the vehicles was outfitted with bulletproof armor plating.

Investigators from the state attorney general’s office will attempt to determine if Leonardo “N” was involved in the Monday massacre. The two kidnapping victims are not related to the high-profile case.

Monday’s narco-terror attack resulted in the murder of three women and six children near a rural Mormon community of La Mora, located in the mountainous municipality of Bavispe. Six additional children from the same family were also injured, while one child is still unaccounted for. All victims are dual U.S. and Mexican citizens.

The killings occurred after cartel operatives opened fire on a caravan of three SUVs transporting the family members as they were traveling to Phoenix. The incident was preceded by an early morning cartel attack in Agua Prieta at approximately 3:15am. A convoy of at least 10 trucks disrupted the early morning hours of the Mexican border city with gunfire, resulting in two deaths and several torched vehicles.

In June, violence erupted in Agua Prieta and nearby Naco, Sonora, resulting in the deaths of nine cartel operatives due to gunfire between rivals.

Robert Arce is a retired Phoenix Police detective with extensive experience working Mexican organized crime and street gangs. Arce completed work assignments in the Balkans, Iraq, Haiti, and recently completed a three-year tour in Monterrey, Mexico, for the U.S. Department of State, International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Program.


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