Six people including a six-month-old baby cradled in the arms of her 17-year-old mother were shot dead at a home in California’s main agricultural valley on Monday in what authorities called a “cartel-style execution” with a link to gangs and illegal drugs.
Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said the killings were connected to the illicit drug trade, saying at a press briefing that, last week, deputies executed narcotic search warrants at the same home, located in the town of Goshen.
“We do believe that this is a targeted act of violence, not a random act of violence,” Boudreaux told reporters at the scene, adding that this was a “horrific massacre.”
Boudreaux said deputies responded to reports of multiple shots fired at the property at around 4 a.m. on Jan. 17. When they arrived, deputies found a total of six victims. One man who was still alive was taken to the hospital but later pronounced dead.
The sheriff said the infant and 17-year-old mother both had gunshot wounds to the head, with ABC citing Boudreaux as saying that “it was like a cartel-style execution.”
“We believe that this was a targeted family. We believe that there are gang associations involved in this scene, as well as potential narcotics investigations,” he told reporters on the scene.
Several others were shot in the head, including an elderly woman, Boudreaux later told the Los Angeles Times. There were two female survivors of the massacre who hid in a trailer on the property.
“I think it’s specifically connected to the cartel. The level of violence … this was not your run-of-the-mill low-end gang member,” Boudreaux told the newspaper.
“If (they) are specifically shooting everyone in the head, they know what they are doing … (and) they are comfortable with what they are doing,” he added.
The sheriff said two suspects have been identified and that there could be more as the investigation progresses.
War on Cartels
Mexican drug cartels have long been a source of violence and crime in the United States. These powerful criminal organizations, which control much of the drug trade in Mexico, have been known to engage in a range of criminal activities, including drug trafficking, extortion, kidnapping, and murder.
A group led by former Trump officials has proposed a formal declaration of war against Mexican cartels, as outlined in a recent policy paper by the Center for Renewing America.
This proposal asks Congress to pass a measure that would close legal ports of entry at the border if a certain number of migrants and asylum seekers are crossing illegally. It also calls for the Navy to intercept drug smuggling vessels and for the Treasury to impose sanctions on specific cartel leaders.
Ken Cuccinelli, who held the second-highest position at the Department of Homeland Security under President Donald Trump, wrote in the proposal that past efforts to address cartel violence have been ineffective, and the government of Mexico has been unable or unwilling to eliminate these “narco-terrorist networks.”
“The southern border of the United States remains mired in chaos, disaster, and death. Contrary to claims by the Biden administration—in particular Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas—the border is not secure,” Cuccinelli wrote.
This proposal dovetails with a recent pledge made by Trump, who said that, if elected president in 2024, he would order the U.S. military to crush Mexican drug cartels and show them “no mercy.”
In a video statement on Jan. 5, Trump blamed “Biden’s open border policies,” which he called a “deadly betrayal of our nation,” for fueling drug-related deaths among Americans.
Illegal immigration has soared under President Joe Biden, with unauthorized crossings exceeding 2.3 million in fiscal year 2022, according to Customs and Border Protection data. That figure topped the previous record by around 1 million and was more than twice the highest level recorded under Trump.
Trump, who previously suggested using U.S. military force against drug cartels operating south of the border, including by reportedly launching missiles into Mexico to destroy drug labs, said in Thursday’s video that deadly narcotics like fentanyl are pouring “across our wide open border” and are “stealing hundreds of thousands of beautiful American lives.”
Since Biden took office, 200,000 Americans have died from drug overdoses, Trump said.
Drug cartels are “waging war on America,” Trump continued, adding that the time has now come “for America to wage war on cartels.”
Trump said he would designate cartels as foreign terrorist organizations and block their access to the global financial system, while asking Congress to pass laws that would punish drug smugglers and human traffickers with the death penalty.
The former president also said he would deploy all necessary military assets, including the U.S. Navy, to impose a naval embargo on cartels and make sure they can’t use regional waters to smuggle drugs into the country.
Trump’s remarks came ahead of Biden’s visit to the southern border and as the president announced steps that he said would improve border security and help stem the flow of illegal immigration.
“Do not just show up at the border,” Biden said at a Jan. 5 White House briefing. “Stay where you are and apply legally from there.”
Biden said he was expanding a parole program that would open a legal pathway for tens of thousands of people a month to enter the United States lawfully but that the administration would start turning away Cubans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans who cross illegally.
Most of the people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally in recent times are from those countries.
Reuters contributed to this report.