LA MORA, Mexico — U.S. citizens living in a small Mexican farming community established by their Mormon ancestors are trying to decide whether they should stay or leave after burying some of the nine American women and children slaughtered this week in a drug cartel ambush.

What had been a peaceful existence in a fertile valley ringed by rugged mountains and desert scrub about 70 miles from the border with Arizona became increasingly dangerous in recent years as the cartels exerted their power and battled each other in Sonora state, a drug smuggling hotbed.

But La Mora, a colony of about 300 people where residents raise cattle and cultivate pomegranates, “will be forever changed” following the killings Monday as the women traveled with their children to visit relatives, a tearful David Langford told mourners at the funeral for his wife, Dawna Ray Langford, and their 11-year-old and 2-year-old sons. “One of the dearest things to our lives is the safety of our family,” said Langford. “And I won’t feel safe. I haven’t for a few years here.”

On Friday, the bodies of Rhonita Miller and four of her children were being taken in a convoy of pickup trucks and SUVS, on the same dirt-and-rock mountainous road where they were killed, for burial in the community of Colonia Le Baron in Chihuahua state. Many residents of the two communities that lie a five-hour, bone-jarring drive apart are related. They consider themselves Mormon but are not affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and many have dual U.S.-Mexican citizenship.

Former La Mora Mayor Steven Langford predicted that as many as half of the community’s the residents could leave, turning it into a “ghost town.” The motive in the killings still isn’t known, though Mexican authorities have suggested the victims were in the wrong place at the wrong time as competing cartels fought over turf and may have mistaken the SUVs the women and children were in for rivals who travel in similar vehicles.

As he barbequed beef and chicken to feed hundreds of mourners arriving from the U.S. and other parts of Mexico for the funerals, Erasmo Valenzuela said he heard that two or three families plan to leave La Mora. Valenzuela, 50, has worked for the community’s families for 10 years and predicted a permanent military presence could be established in the area.

“Sometimes bad things have to happen for good things to happen, so that we feel safer,” he said.

Colonia LeBaron has been largely peaceful since the 2009 killing of one of its members who was an anti-crime activist prompted Mexican authorities to establish a security base. But the police presence in La Mora was negligible until the women and children were killed and authorities sent a swarm of state and federal police to the area. How long they stay could be crucial to the community’s future, residents said.

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