It was unclear whether the attackers intentionally targeted the family, which has historically spoken out about the criminal groups that plague the northern border states of Sonora and Chihuahua, or whether it was a case of mistaken identity.
Julian LeBarón, a cousin of the three women who were driving the vehicles, said in a telephone interview from Bavispe, Mexico, that the women and their children had been traveling from the state of Sonora to the state of Chihuahua.
His cousin Rhonita was traveling to Phoenix to pick up her husband, who works in North Dakota and was returning to celebrate the couple’s wedding anniversary. Her car broke down, Mr. LeBarón said, and the gunmen “opened fire on Rhonita and torched her car.”
She was killed, along with an 11-year-old boy, a 9-year-old girl and twins who were less than a year old, he said.
About eight miles ahead, the two other cars were also attacked, killing the two other women, Mr. LeBarón said. A 4-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl were also killed, he said.
Family members said several children were rescued, some having hidden by the roadside to escape the attackers.
“Six little kids were killed, and seven made it out alive,” Mr. LeBarón said.
The women had married men from La Mora, which is in the municipality of Bavispe in Sonora. The surviving children were being taken by helicopter from Bavispe, the town closest to the La Mora community, to a hospital, he said.