Coronavirus tag: How the pandemic can affect young minds

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) – It’s a bit like tag, except that you get tagged when someone coughs on you and that means you have the virus and have to go into isolation. If you come out and get tagged again, you die.

Child psychotherapists say playground games in the time of COVID-19 are becoming infused with words that many of the children playing them had never heard before: pandemic, isolation, lockdown.

So while the disease caused by the new coronavirus appears to produce relatively mild symptoms in many children, doctors and psychologists warn the impact of the outbreak and its anxiety-inducing spread may be far more traumatic.

“I’m worried we could develop a generation of children with health anxiety,” said Nikhil Chopra, a family doctor and father of two girls, aged 2 and 4, living in southern England.

His 4-year-old, normally playful and worry-free, he said, was coming home from school last week saying: “If we don’t wash our hands we could die.”

A psychotherapist who works with children in London said the games and playground talk among young children sharply reflect the new world.

Describing the coronavirus tag game, where “if you’re tagged you have to stand at one end of the playground in isolation, and if you come out and get tagged again, you die”, the therapist said fear and confusion were leading some kids to lash out.

“There’s quite a lot of ethnic diversity in the school I work in, and the Chinese children are being victimized and bullied – they are being told they’re “unclean” and “revolting” because “they eat dogs and snakes”. It’s so sad. The children are not bad, but their fear is so great that the only thing they can do is project it onto others to gain a sense of control.”

NERVOUS AND BRAVE

Across the Atlantic, 4-year-old Asher Henkoff says he’s fine when asked how the pandemic is affecting him: “I have my stuffed animals to keep me company, and I get to watch TV,” the Houston, Texas boy said, adding he feels “nerv-brave” – a mix of nervous and brave.

His mother, Alexandra Wax, says Asher has become uncharacteristically clingy, is asking non-stop questions about the new virus and has begun having accidents during the night – something he hasn’t done in years.

While some young minds will be resilient and enable those children to bounce back after the crisis, the risk for others, psychotherapists say, is that the anxiety they see around them now will impact their mental growth and future lives.

“Adults panicking is going to mean children panicking because they will be feeling very unsafe,” said Lucy Russell, a clinical psychologist in southern England and author of an online child mental health blog called “They are the Future”.

“I’m most worried not because of the distress I’m seeing in children right at this moment, but because of the distress I’m seeing in adults and how that will be transmitted to children.”

Russell and other mental health specialists such as Mary Calabrese, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based child psychologist, say traumas like the global coronavirus pandemic can affect children particularly strongly.

Because their brains are still forming, trauma can cause the amygdala – the emotional part of the brain linked to fear and anxiety – to over-react at a time when its link to the frontal cortex – the thinking and more rational part of the brain – is not fully developed.

“The connections aren’t strong,” Russell said. “So young children tend to react emotionally to things – and the thinking, rational part of the brain can’t calm them down.”

Calming becomes a job for adults – parents, neighbors, teachers and friends – said Russell and Calabrese.

Acknowledging how hard this can be for parents and carers whose own lives are filled with anxiety and uncertainty, the specialists advise creating as much structure and predictability as possible to help children feel secure and safe.

And because children’s minds are geared toward problem-solving, they might also respond well to reassurance that focuses on what can be done to control the spread of the virus – like washing hands and staying inside.

“Validate their fears without making it worse,” Calabrese said. “You might want to say: ‘Let’s find out together what this means’. Pull it away from them personally, and say: ‘This is why we all owe it to each other to socially distance’.”

(Reporting and writing by Kate Kelland in London. Additional reporting by Nick Brown in New York; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

In Argentina’s north, indigenous children sicken and die from malnutrition

By Miguel Lo Bianco

TARTAGAL, Argentina (Reuters) – In Argentina, once one of the world’s richest countries and long a major supplier of beef, children are dying of hunger.

In Argentina’s far northern province of Salta, in a small indigenous community plagued by extreme poverty, eight children died in January alone from malnutrition and a lack of access to clean drinking water, health authorities say.

Women from the indigenous Wichi community carry their children who are undergoing treatment for malnourishment at a hospital, in Tartagal, in the Salta province, Argentina, February 27, 2020. Picture taken February 27, 2020. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

The issue affects other places, too, and has prompted the national government to announce a plan to tackle hunger. The governor of Salta has declared a public health emergency, vowing to work with the national government to provide clean water in the province.

In the province last week, children from the Wichi community, with a population of just 1,200, played barefoot in the mud, outside homes constructed by hand from wood and cloth.

In Tartagal, the small town nearest to where the Wichi live, hospital beds are filled with Wichi children battling malnutrition and a host of other health issues linked to a lack of clean water, health officials said. Sometimes, the children arrive too late to make a recovery, according to Juan Lopez, manager of the hospital in Tartagal.

Complications related to the issues led to the deaths of the eight Wichi children in January, he said. The community also has one of the country’s highest rates of infant mortality.

A spokesman for Argentina’s ministry of health said, “We are constantly liaising with the province of Salta. We are doing food assistance and health assistance.” He added that there were teams from the federal government working in the province.

Liliana Ciriaco, a 45-year-old Wichi woman, said in an interview that there had been “many sicknesses.”

“There are some pregnant women who die, there are children who die, the elderly, too, and we don’t know what is going on,” she said.

A century ago, Argentina was one of the world’s most affluent countries, but it has weathered a series of economic crises in recent decades. The latest one began in 2018. Inflation hovers above 50% and the poverty rate is at 35%. Argentina’s indigenous communities, historically poor, have been especially hard hit.

A child from the indigenous Wichi community holds onto a feeding tube at a hospital, in Tartagal, in the Salta province, Argentina, February 26, 2020. Picture taken February 26, 2020. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

For the Wichi community, the lack of access to safe water is a critical problem.

“The place where they access their water source has high salinization or even chemicals that have been used for agriculture, which cause many gastrointestinal diseases, diarrhea, malnutrition and, above all, dehydration,” said Diego Tipping, president of the Red Cross in Argentina.

Argentina’s new center-left President Alberto Fernandez campaigned on promises to address hunger, poverty and unemployment. In December, he announced a plan to combat the issue in the most affected areas of the country called “Argentina Against Hunger.”

Alejandro Deane, president of the Siwok Foundation, which is dedicated to improving water access for indigenous communities in northern Argentina, called the situation for the Wichi community “disastrous.”

“There is no good news. What needs to be done? What can be done? Here we need a long-term plan, not a short-term plan,” Deane said.

(Reporting by Miguel Lo Bianco; Additional reporting by Marina Lammertyn and Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Richard Chang)

Germany tightens carnival security after driver with ‘dead’ expression injures 60

By Joseph Nasr

VOLKMARSEN, Germany (Reuters) – Germany increased security at some carnival processions on Tuesday after a local man plowed his car into a parade in the western German town of Volkmarsen, injuring around 60 people, including at least 18 children.

The incident on Monday shook Germans still struggling to take in last week’s racist gun attack on two bars in the town of Hanau which left 11 people dead.

The driver was detained at the carnival on suspicion of attempted homicide and was being treated for his own injuries.

An emergency responder said bystanders had punched the man while he tried to choke her as she leaned into the car to remove the key.

“He didn’t say a word. He looked at you empty and dead and seemed so satisfied,” Lea-Sophie Schloemer told Welt television. “It was really unnerving how satisfied he seemed.”

The prosecutors’ spokesman said the driver had not yet been in a fit state to be questioned, but was not drunk at the time of the incident. Initial tests for alcohol were negative but that was not a final assessment and there were as yet no results from the drug test.

The motive was still unclear. “We are investigating all possibilities,” he said.

He said earlier there was no sign the investigation would be handed to national prosecutors, suggesting they did not see a political motive.

While some carnival processions in the state of Hesse, home to Volkmarsen, were canceled, others were due to take place in the region on Tuesday. A police spokesman said security would be intensified.

Rose Monday is the height of the carnival season in Catholic areas of Germany, especially in the Rhineland where tens of thousands of people dress up, drink alcohol and line the streets to watch decorated floats that often mock public figures.

Prosecutors said there was no concrete reason to think the risk of attacks at parades had increased, but they urged organizers to review their security arrangements and adjust them if necessary.

Security at public events in Germany has been tightened since a Tunisian man with Islamist militant ties plowed a truck into a Christmas market in Berlin in 2016, killing 12 people. He was later shot dead by Italian police after fleeing.

LIFE-THREATENING INJURIES

A police spokesman said he could not rule out that some of the injured in Volkmarsen were in a life-threatening condition.

Police had detained the driver, a 29-year-old German from the town who had been driving a silver Mercedes car, and he would appear before an investigating magistrate as soon as his condition allowed, state prosecutors said.

“There are so far no indications of politically-motivated criminality,” Bild newspaper cited an investigator as saying.

“But we think that the perpetrator acted with intent, and that psychological problems may have played a role,” the investigator added.

Prosecutors confirmed that a second man had been detained at the scene on Monday and was accused of filming the incident. The spokesman said prosecutors were investigating whether the man had links to the driver, including checking phone records.

The street where the incident happened in the center of the small town was still cordoned off by police on Tuesday and several stores in the area were closed. Residents were in shock.

“It’s terrible. I don’t know how somebody could do this, especially to children,” said 58-year-old Rainer Bellmann.

Locals told Reuters that police had searched two homes in the town, including one apartment near to the scene that a police officer said was the home of relatives of the man.

(Additional reporting by Hans Seidenstuecker in Frankfurt, Michelle Martin and Reuters Television; editing by Philippa Fletcher; Writing by Madeline Chambers and Emma Thomasson; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Philippa Fletcher)

No place to go: Syrian families fleeing Idlib stranded on the roads

By Khalil Ashawi

AZAZ, Syria (Reuters) – Abu Abdallah has been on the road for days. After his family fled the air strikes pounding Idlib, they moved from one village to another in northwest Syria but have yet to find refuge.

“I don’t know where to take them,” the 49-year-old farmer said from his tractor on the side of a road in Azaz town, where he is stranded with his wife, four children and 20 other relatives. “This is the first time I flee my hometown. God knows where we will go.”

The family is part of the biggest exodus of Syria’s nine-year war.

Nearly a million people, mostly women and children, are trying to escape the latest wave of violence in the Idlib region, overwhelming aid agencies.

Many have nowhere to go, trapped between the fighting and the closed-off Turkish border. Families sleep outside in streets and olive groves, burning garbage to stay warm. Some children have died from the cold.

Some of the people fleeing Idlib have already been displaced more than once, after fleeing battles in other parts of Syria earlier in the conflict.

The United Nations said on Tuesday that government warplanes had struck hospitals and refugee camps as the Syrian army, with Russian backing, gains ground in the northwest, the country’s last rebel stronghold.

Before she escaped Idlib in recent days, Aziza Hadaja, 70, locked her front door.

It is the third time she has been uprooted, but in the past, she would go back home. This time, after government forces marched into her village, she does not know when or if she will return.

Along with her children and grandchildren, Hadaja is now sheltering in a makeshift tent in a field on the road out of Azaz further north.

“We came out with the clothes on our backs,” she said. “We didn’t bring a thing.”

(Reporting by Khalil Ashawi in Syria; Writing by Ellen Francis in Beirut; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Syria displacement is worst since conflict began: U.N.

By Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) – More people have fled fighting in Syria over the past 10 weeks than at any other time in the 9-year-old conflict and the city of Idlib, where many are sheltering, could become a graveyard if hostilities continue, two U.N. agencies said on Tuesday.

Syrian government forces are shelling their way northwards, backed by Russian air strikes, driving people toward the Turkish border as they try to seize remaining rebel strongholds near Idlib and Aleppo.

Turkey, which backs the rebels and is fearful of additional refugees, has retaliated militarily, with displaced civilians caught in between.

“It’s the fastest growing displacement we have ever seen in the country,” Jens Laerke from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said, adding that nearly 700,000 people had fled since December, mostly women and children.

Another 280,000 people could flee from urban centers if fighting continues, including from the city of Idlib, which is packed with people who have escaped fighting elsewhere and which has not yet seen a full military assault on its center.

“It has the world’s largest concentration of displaced people and urgently need a cessation of hostilities so as not to turn it into a graveyard,” Laerke added.

Of Syria’s 17 million people, 5.5 million are living as refugees in the region, mostly in Turkey, and a further six million are uprooted within their own country.

Civilians are struggling to find shelter, amid harsh winter conditions with snow, rain and wind from Storm Ciara. Mosques are full and makeshift camps are overcrowded, said Andrej Mahecic, a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency.

“Even finding a place in an unfinished building has become nearly impossible,” he told journalists in Geneva, describing the humanitarian crisis as “increasingly desperate”.

OCHA has sent 230 trucks over two authorized border crossings in Turkey so far this month, containing food, water and hygiene equipment, Laerke added. Last month, 1,227 trucks were shipped in the biggest cross-border aid operation there since the operation started in 2014.

The U.N. Security Council renewed a six-month program delivering aid to civilians in January but stopped crossings from Iraq and Jordan to avoid a veto from Russia which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Aid workers say that is restricting their ability to help the displaced.

(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

‘Under Siege’: desperate Mexico region uses guns, children to fend off cartels

By Alexandre Meneghini

RINCON DE CHAUTLA, Mexico (Reuters) – When the 56-year-old mother-in-law of David Sanchez Luna was tortured and killed after venturing out of her small Mexican community encircled by drug cartels, he let his seven- and ten-year-old daughters receive military-style weapons training.

Unable to send their children to school and too afraid to step out of their enclave of 16 mountain villages in the violence-plagued southwestern Guerrero state, residents say they have been left with little choice.

“They do this to prepare themselves to defend the family, their siblings and defend the village,” said Sanchez Luna, a corn farmer in a rugged region which five years ago formed a self-defense “community police” militia to protect itself.

The move by the villagers to offer arms training to school-age children shocked the nation and made global headlines last month after local media broadcast images of children as young as 6-years-old toting guns and showing off military maneuvers.

While elders in the mainly indigenous community near the city of Chilapa privately concede young kids would not be used to fight cartel gunmen, they say their gambit to get the help of far-away officials in Mexico City is borne of desperation.

Ten musicians from the area were ambushed and killed last month by suspected Los Ardillos cartel members after stepping out of the territory guarded by their self-defense militia, known as CRAC-PF. Their bodies were burnt, officials said.

The attack followed a spate of murders in recent year, including a beheading, that rattled the 6,500 residents whose lush land sits amid fertile poppy-growing farmland that feed Guerrero’s heroin trade and supply routes to the United States.

The grisly murders and siege-like conditions facing residents go to the heart of cartel power and state failure in modern Mexico, where runaway violence tears at society’s fabric.

“This is a public cry for help by a community that’s been cornered,” said Falko Ernst, an International Crisis Group (ICG) analyst. “They’ve been trying to get assistance by federal and state government, unsuccessfully, so they’re trying to escalate the language to try to negotiate and get help.”

President Manuel Andres Lopez Obrador said those who arm children “should be ashamed of themselves” and denounced the use of children to grab attention.

Lopez Obrador’s government has struggled to get a grip on gangs and violence, with a record 34,582 murders last year.

Residents remain deeply suspicious of regional authorities and the smattering of local policemen in their villages, who they accuse of being the eyes and ears of the Los Ardillos.

Parents say their children are forced to stop formal education once they reach about 12 years of age, as the middle schools are in territory controlled by the cartel.

Abuner Martinez, 16, stopped attending school a year ago after his father was kidnapped outside CRAC-PF territory, tortured, and then beheaded.

“I got scared at that moment. I didn’t want to go to school,” said Martinez, who now wields a shotgun as he guards a checkpoint.

The Los Ardillos want to extort the farmers and force them to grow opium for the cartel, said Sanchez Luna’s brother, Bernardino, who founded the CRAC-PF.

“We find ourselves under siege,” he said.

CRAC-PF repelled a major attack by Los Ardillos in January 2019, but residents live in fear of the siren, a community alarm system, going off again.

Farmers tend their corn fields with shotguns slung on their backs, while armed CRAC-PF militiamen keep guard and patrol their territory round the clock.

David Sanchez Luna’s wife, Alberta, sobbed as she described receiving her mother’s body riddled with torture marks.

“It’s terrible what’s happening to us,” she said, wiping away tears.

(Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

Having fled bombing, Syrian children learn to read in tent schools

By Khalil Ashawi

AZAZ, Syria (Reuters) – Syrian teacher Ahmad al Hilal listens to his young pupils sitting on a mat reciting the Arabic alphabet in a makeshift school in a tent on the outskirts of a sprawling refugee camp city along the Turkish border.

Many ran for their lives with their mothers under heavy aerial bombing by Syrian and Russian jets that paralyzed day-to-day life and damaged dozens of schools and hospitals.

Now, already enduring the difficult winter conditions in the camp, where many tents get flooded, the children huddle on the floor, learning how to read with scraps of paper and pencils.

“These kids suffer from illiteracy. They don’t read or write. They have no one to help them,” said Hilal, who teaches over 140 young Syrians in three tents scattered across several large overcrowded camps on the outskirts of the border town of Azaz.

Women and children form a majority of more than 350,000 people who have fled the renewed assault since December that has pushed deeper into the Syria’s opposition-run bastion in the northwest, according to the United Nations.

“We came here as refugees, there are no more schools because of the air strikes, so we haven’t been going to school but we’re studying in the camp here,” said 14-year-old pupil Khaled, who did not give a family name.

Hilal was himself uprooted from his town of Abu Dahur in Idlib province after the army, backed by pro-Iranian militias seized it.

“We bought some books and parts of the Koran and now teach them inside the camp,” said Hilal, 48, who was a teacher before the conflict that began almost nine years ago.

The U.N. children’s agency UNICEF has warned that the war will leave a generation who have never enrolled in school, having a devastating toll on education, with 7,000 schools destroyed and about 2 million children out of class.

At a nearby camp in al Bab, volunteers have converted a school bus into the Bus of Knowledge classroom.

Inside the decorated bus around 50 girls and boys as young as five take lessons in maths, life skills, Arabic and religion.

“Children are unable to go to the schools in the city. So we at the bus come to them with knowledge and provide them with the learning essentials such as reading and writing and basic mathematics,” said Mawiya Shular, 32, who fled a former rebel-held enclave in Homs three years ago.

“The feeling of being displaced gives me the motivation to work with these children. I want to get children out of their sense of alienation” said Shular, also a family counselor.

(Writing by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Alison Williams)

U.N. says around 350,0000 people have fled Syria’s Idlib since Dec. 1

AMMAN (Reuters) – Around 350,000 Syrians, mostly women and children, have been displaced by a renewed Russian-backed offensive in the opposition-held Idlib province since early December, and have sought shelter in border areas near Turkey, the United Nations said on Thursday.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its latest situation report that the humanitarian situation continued to deteriorate as a result of the “escalating” hostilities.

Russian jets and Syrian artillery have pounded towns and villages in recent weeks in a renewed assault backed by pro-Iranian militias that aimed at clearing the opposition.

“This latest wave of displacement compounds an already dire humanitarian situation on the ground in Idlib,” David Swanson, Amman-based U.N. regional spokesman for Syria, told Reuters.

Russian and Syrian jets resumed bombing of civilian areas in the opposition enclave two days after a ceasefire agreed between Turkey and Russia formally took effect on Sunday.

U.N. officials said earlier this month the humanitarian crisis had worsened with thousands of civilians on the run in Idlib province on top of close to 400,000 people who fled earlier bouts of fighting to the safety of camps near the Turkish border.

The latest offensive has brought the Russian-steered military campaign closer to heavily populated parts of Idlib province, where nearly 3 million people are trapped, according to the United Nations.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Erdogan says world cares more about Syria’s oil than its children

Erdogan says world cares more about Syria’s oil than its children
By Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan urged world powers on Tuesday to help it resettle 1 million Syrian refugees very soon, accusing governments of moving more quickly to guard Syria’s oil fields than its children.

Erdogan, whose country hosts 3.7 million Syrian refugees, the largest refugee population worldwide, said more than 600,000 should voluntarily join around 371,000 already in a “peace zone” in northern Syria from which Turkey drove Kurdish militia.

“I think the resettlement can easily reach 1 million in a very short period of time,” Erdogan told the Global Forum on Refugees in Geneva.

The plan met with scepticism from Jan Egeland, Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, who said that while Turkey was far ahead in terms of hosting refugees, resettling Arab refugees in areas previously populated by Kurds was wrong.

“I hope this will not happen, really. It shouldn’t happen,” Egeland told Reuters.

Turkey has said it expected the Syrian Kurdish refugees it hosts, who number around 300,000, to be the first to return to the area between the border towns of Ras al Ain and Tel Abyad.

Filippo Grandi, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said returns must be voluntary, refugees should be given support and property and other legal issues must be addressed.

“We are also urging the Syrian authorities to allow us a presence in the areas where people return because this could be a confidence-building measure,” Grandi told a news conference.

HIGH COST

Erdogan said Turkey had spent more than $40 billion hosting the refugees and criticized the European Union, which had pledged nearly 6 billion euros ($6.61 billion), for failing to deliver around half of that sum.

The European Commission has said it is committed to delivering the aid.

Two months ago, Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies launched a third cross-border offensive into northern Syria against the YPG, which had spearheaded the fight against Islamic State.

After seizing a 120-km (75 mile) strip of land from Ras al Ain to Tel Abyad in northeastern Syria, Ankara signed deals with Washington and Moscow to halt its assault.

Erdogan, taking a thinly veiled swipe at the United States, which moved quickly to guard Syrian oil fields after the retreat of Islamic State, said: “Unfortunately the efforts that were spared to protect the oil fields were not mobilized for the safety and security of the children in Syria.”

Ankara views the YPG as a terrorist organization linked to Kurdish insurgents on its own soil and has said the U.S.-led NATO alliance should be supporting its fellow member Turkey instead.

Turkey had said it could settle 2 million Syrian refugees in a planned “safe zone” stretching 444 km (275 miles) in northern Syria and has repeatedly urged NATO allies to help fund the plans. Last week, Erdogan said Turkey may settle 1 million refugees between Ras al Ain and Tel Abyad alone.

On Tuesday, Erdogan reiterated that Turkey could build housing and schools in the zone as it has in other parts of northern Syria after driving out the YPG.

Around 150 Kurds demonstrated outside the U.N. European headquarters during his speech. Ramazan Baytar, head of the Kurdish Democratic Society Center in Switzerland, said Erdogan was using the refugee issue to enact demographic change. Turkey has blamed changing regional demographics on the YPG.

(Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Turkey and by Cecile Mantovani in Geneva; writing by Stephanie Nebehay and Tuvan Gumrukcu; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Under armed escort, mourner convoys reach Mexican village for U.S. family funerals

Under armed escort, mourner convoys reach Mexican village for U.S. family funerals
By Jose Luis Gonzalez

BAVISPE, Mexico (Reuters) – Convoys of vehicles carrying relatives of a group of American women and children slain by unknown gunmen snaked through the dark from as far away as the United States into a remote Mexican region ahead of funerals for the victims to be held on Thursday and Friday.

Members of breakaway Mormon communities that settled in Mexico decades ago, the three dual-nationality women and six children were ambushed in Sonora state on Monday, leading to U.S. President Donald Trump urging Mexico and the United States to “wage war’ together on the drug cartels.

Late on Monday, dozens of SUV-style vehicles and pickup trucks escorted by Mexican National Guard outliers rolled into the municipality of Bavispe, where funerals will be held for two of the women and their families on Thursday.

“We came prepared to sleep on the floor, in tents. Whatever is needed to support the families who died in this terrorist act,” said Alex LeBaron, a former Congressman and cousin of one of the women, Rhonita Miller.

The remains of Miller and her children, whose bodies were reduced to ash and bones when the car they were in was shot at and went up in flames, are due to be buried in another village called Colonia LeBaron on Friday.

Alex LeBaron, who was with the convoy, told Mexican radio that mourners had come from the United States and across Mexico, bringing food and mattresses for the journey.

The LeBaron family, which came to Mexico in the early 20th century, now claims to be made up of more than 5,000 members.

Authorities and relatives say the killings appeared to be the work of the Juarez and the Sinaloa Cartels, who fight for control of lucrative drug routes that run through the sparsely populated mountainous areas into the United States.

Mexico has unleashed its military against cartels since 2006 but despite the arrests or killings of leading traffickers, the campaign has failed to reduce violence. Instead, it has led to more killings as criminal groups fight among themselves.

The victims came from prominent local families, including the LeBarons, Millers and Langfords.

Nestled in the fertile valleys of the Sierra Madre mountains just a few hours drive south from the U.S. border, the oldest communities stem from the late 1800s, when upheaval over polygamy in the Utah-based church led to their founding.

The settlements have marriage ties to others in the United States.

(The story is refiled to add Thursday as one date of funerals in first paragraph)

(Reporting by Jose Luis Gonzalez; Additional reporting by Noe Torres; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)