Hundreds of mourners, many of them family, streamed into this town settled in the 1950s by American fundamentalist Mormons for the first of the services, held in Langford’s backyard.
The killings have drawn attention to the power and ruthlessness of Mexico’s drug cartels and the government’s failure to control its own territory. But they’ve also cast a spotlight on the tiny American Mormon community that has endured for decades in one of the country’s most lawless regions.
In eulogy after eulogy, mourners spoke of La Mora and other nearby Mormon communities as one large extended family, members now leaning on each other as they mourn their losses and face the uncertainty of what comes next.
Dawna Langford grew up in the nearby Mormon community of LeBaron, playing and camping in the Sierra Madre mountains, part of a community that considered itself both American and Mexican but lived out of reach of either government, in an enclave that still practiced polygamy. She had 49 brothers and sisters.
Relatives described the large family as one of its great blessings. They remembered how Dawna had served as a kind of second mother, helping to raise some of her siblings. When she was 19, she married and started a family of her own. After living in Minnesota and Wyoming, she knew she wanted to be in Mexico, though many of her relatives had moved to the United States. The family settled in La Mora.
Her daughter Crystal said everyone in northern Mexico’s extended Mormon community appeared to know Dawna. Even when Crystal was visiting LeBaron, across state lines in Chihuahua, strangers would talk about how much they loved Dawna.
“I told her, ‘Even these random strangers love you, mom,’” Crystal said.
Those communities were normally void of almost any government presence, leaving residents to figure out their own alliances or ways of avoiding local criminal organizations. But on Thursday, during the funerals, La Mora was packed with security personnel. The governor of Sonora arrived in a helicopter. A truck of national guardsmen parked nearby.
Many of Dawna’s brothers and sisters and children now work in North Dakota and Texas and Arizona. They learned of her death on WhatsApp messages.
“Me being more than 1,500 miles away when this happened was more than I could bear,” said Ryan Langford, Dawna’s son.
The service was mostly in English, with some Spanish peppered in. The eulogies focused mostly on the community’s faith in God and their memories of the dead, but the brutality of the incident pierced the ceremony.
Mourners discussed the children who survived, running barefoot through the brush back to their families. They described the horror of finding the crime scene.
“What happened just tears us apart,” said Justin Ray.