PHOENIX, AZ – A Utah man who helped get his mother and other family members safely out of northern Mexico after nine people were killed in an apparent ambush said Sunday that most fled to Arizona with whatever they could fit in their cars and trucks and they'll likely never return.
More than 100 people left their rural community in northern Mexico on Saturday in an 18-vehicle caravan after the attack Monday in which nine women and children were killed by what authorities say were hit men from drug cartels.
"I went down there to get my mother and get my family out, my brothers and sisters and lots of kids," Mike Hafen said Sunday in telephone interview from his sister's home in Phoenix.
"They've been down there for 47 years. They left with the bare minimum, whatever they could fit in the back of my pickup," Hafen added. "After 47 years of living, they almost had to walk away from everything."
Hafen said many of his family and friends think they'll never return to Mexico because of the drug cartels.
"It's getting worse. There's nothing but corruption. You don't know who you can trust," Hafen said. "Some of my family say they don't think they will ever be going back.
"It's pretty hard on everyone and it's sad. I grew up there. It was an awesome place to live. I love the place. Growing up there, I wouldn't trade it for anything," added Hafen, 54, who moved to Utah 15 years ago. "But what the cartels doing what they're doing, it's not safe. We have found that out."
Monday's deadly attack occurred as the women traveled with their children to visit relatives. Eight children, some mere infants, survived the ambush.
The spread-out community traces its origins to the end of polygamy more than a century ago by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, forcing Mormon families in the U.S. with multiple wives to establish offshoots elsewhere.
The families had lived in two hamlets in Mexico's Sonora state: La Mora and Colonia LeBaron. Other residents of the hamlets plan to depart in the coming days, leaving the community their families have called home since the 1950s.
Hafen said his family members haven't decided whether to stay in Arizona or go elsewhere.
"They're still working on it, trying to figure it out," he said.