EL DORADO HILLS, Calif. (KTXL) -- On Monday, they were three branches of a happy, thriving family caravanning to a Mexican wedding with some continuing on to Arizona.
By Tuesday, Bryan LeBaron's loved ones were at the center of an international tragedy. Nine women and children were believed to have been shot to death by criminal groups in the northern Mexican state of Sonora.
"My cousin was just a complete sweetheart. One of the nicest people, the sweetest people you could ever meet. Wonderful mother and just her whole family, just a wonderful family," LeBaron told FOX40.
While LeBaron sat in his El Dorado Hills home he grieved for his cousin, Rhonita Miller, and four of her children. Christina Langford Johnson and Dawna Langford, along with two of Dawna's sons, were also killed. The youngest lost were Miller's 8-month-old twins, Tianna and Titus.
One surviving child said they indicated with their hands up to the gunmen who stopped them that they were civilians.
"Nita was always such a sweet, sweet girl. Rhonita had the kindest, most gracious, loving heart," said LeBaron’s wife, Lindi.
The Millers, Langfords and Langford Johnsons were all dual U.S. and Mexican citizens who were part of a predominantly pecan farming community.
Their community was originally founded by a group that splintered from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Community members made their home in Mexico for generations.
"It's the rain, it's the trees. It's the memories of getting on the tractors with your dad and going with all your cousins to pick pecans," Lindi said.
Lindi was born in the area and said she and her husband take their own seven children there for fall holidays and every summer. They had just returned right before school started this year.
The next time they will all be together will be very different.
"The thought of her never being around and all her babies, well not all of them but four," Lindi said.
Out of tragedy, they were finding moments to celebrate. Rhonita Miller's son, Devin, pulled branches down over some of the surviving kids to hide them.
"And told them, ‘Don't move, I'm gonna go get help.’ And he walked for 15 miles back to his hometown,” Lindi explained.
He had been gone for six hours and was shot in the arm and the back.
His sister, McKenzie, was found wandering in the darkness looking for him.
Long after the family caravan was attacked, the LeBarons got some good news. Christina Langford Johnson's baby, Faith, had been found in one of the bullet-ridden cars. The family learned of the news in a voicemail.
“Christina's baby is alive. Praise God. We got Faith, she is alive. Do you understand me? God is so good, you don't even know," the voicemail said.