MEXICO CITY – Mexico reacted to the slaying of an anti-crime activist with outrage Wednesday: Congress called for a minute of silence, television commentators demanded justice and activists pledged to step up their fight against crime despite persistent threats.
Public-safety groups say Benjamin LeBaron was the first anti-crime activist in Mexico to have been murdered in retaliation for his work.
"It is essential that those responsible ... be punished," the non-governmental group Mexico United Against Crime said in a statement. "We cannot allow organized crime to intimidate, threaten and kill those brave enough to denounce them."
The lower House of Congress held a minute of silence and proposed a resolution condemning Tuesday's slaying of LeBaron, 32, and neighbor Luis Widmar, 29, by a gang of armed men in military-style camouflage gear. The two were abducted from LeBaron's house, tossed into a truck and then shot in the head on a nearby road.
"Millions of Mexicans share your indignation over this crime," national radio and television commentator Joaquin Lopez Doriga told the victims' relatives.
Members of the tiny hamlet of Colonia LeBaron, a community founded by excommunicated Mormons in northern Chihuahua state, pledged to forge ahead with community efforts to stop kidnapping and extortion, despite LeBaron's death.
LeBaron helped lead the town's approximately 2,000 inhabitants in protests against the May 2 kidnapping of LeBaron's brother Eric LeBaron, 19. The residents refused to pay the $1 million ransom kidnappers requested and demonstrated in the Chihuahua state capital to demand justice.
Even after Eric was released unharmed a week later, the LeBaron people — most of whom are dual U.S. citizens and many of whom still practice a breakaway version of the Mormon faith — continued to lead marches demanding more law enforcement in the rural, isolated corner of Chihuahua state.
They also set up a committee to report any suspicious activities in town to police, quickly becoming an example for other Chihuahua communities plagued by drug-related kidnappings and extortion.
"A lot of the neighboring communities were asking for our help on how to get organized and how to set up," said LeBaron's cousin, Daniel LeBaron. "They kind of looked at us as an example to follow."
Both the army and police increased their presence in the town following Eric's kidnapping. And then last month, soldiers detained 25 suspected hit men for the Sinaloa drug cartel in the nearby town of Nicolas Bravo.
LeBaron's killers left a banner saying his slaying was revenge for those arrests.
Benjamin LeBaron's brother, Julian LeBaron, said the banner was signed "El General," an apparent reference to Sinaloa cartel lieutenant Jose Garcia.
Colonia LeBaron was founded in the late 1940s by polygamist Mormons from the United States after the U.S. church disavowed the practice. Few of the families in the hamlet still practice polygamy, and many are no longer practicing Mormons. The townspeople now mainly farm, run cattle ranches and grow pecans.
Daniel Lebaron said the community knows it can't win the war against the drug cartels, but he said that won't stop it from organizing.
"These people think that this is going to stop us," he said. "But it's only going to make us stronger."