MEXICO CITY — A year after the massacre of nine members of a Mormon family in northern Mexico, a suspect was arrested on homicide charges in connection with the case, Mexican officials said.
The man, whom the authorities identified only as “Alfredo ‘L’” and a member of a criminal group operating in northern Mexico, was detained in the border city of Ciudad Juárez on Wednesday, exactly a year after gunmen ambushed the family as they drove in a convoy along an isolated desert road in the state of Sonora.
The nine victims included six children and three women, all dual Mexican and American citizens who lived in the region where they were attacked.
No one has been convicted in the killings, which stunned Mexico and the United States. The case has remained a stain on the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has struggled to find an effective approach to reducing violence in the country.
Mexican authorities, in a brief announcement publicizing the arrest, offered scant information about the suspect, whom they said was a “likely participant in the events that occurred on November 4, 2019.”
According to Mexico’s attorney general’s office, 12 suspects have been arrested in connection with the case though only two of them, including the man arrested this week, have been accused of murder. The other 10 are facing other charges, including illegal possession of weapons and organized crime, officials said.
Far from celebrating the latest arrest, members of the extended family expressed deep disappointment, frustration and anger about the fact that a year after the murder of their relatives, nobody had been convicted of the crimes.
“It’s absolutely infuriating,” Julian LeBarón, the first cousin of two of the women killed in the attack, said in an interview on Thursday. “It’s the easiest thing in the world for the government to say, ‘We know who did it and we’re going to catch them all,’ but it’s almost impossible to send someone to prison for murder.”
He said the inability of the authorities to solve the crime clearly underscored the weaknesses of the Mexican law enforcement and justice systems and the degree to which they were undermined by malfeasance. Very few homicides in Mexico end in a conviction.
“It’s so obvious to anyone with common sense that you don’t get to almost 100 percent impunity without a rottenness and corruption that’s eroded the institutions to their core,” said Mr. LeBarón, 42, who has conducted a high-profile campaign to pressure the Mexican authorities and the president’s administration to solve the case.
The family members were ambushed while driving in three sport utility vehicles in a rural area of Sonora where Mormon groups that splintered from the main United States church began settling in the early 20th century.
In the days after the attack, the authorities suggested that it could have been a case of mistaken identity, and said they were exploring the possibility that it was related to a conflict between two criminal groups fighting for control of that region and its lucrative trafficking routes for drugs, weapons and other contraband.
Because the victims had American citizenship and frequently moved between the two countries, Mexican officials agreed to give their counterparts in the United States full access to their investigative files.
When Mr. López Obrador took office in 2018, he vowed to end his predecessors’ war on drugs, an approach that had relied on the military. Instead, he promised, he would address the roots of crime by tackling poverty through social development programs and investment — a strategy he referred to as “hugs, not bullets.”
And yet, the effort has not significantly lowered the national murder tally.
Asked whether he thought there was anything to celebrate in the latest arrest in connection with his family’s case, Mr. LeBarón said, “We’ve understood who the top dogs are, and this is not one of them.”
He said the attention drawn by the case, which made international news, left him feeling an obligation to speak up for other families and to push the government to do more to reduce the nation’s violence.
“It’s been 366 days since my cousins were murdered — and their children — and if they cannot solve this case, just imagine what’s it’s like for the families that cannot sit down with the president, that cannot ask America for help,” he said. “The fact that we can makes it seem that we have 10 times more responsibility to speak out.”
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