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LeBaron community was founded as a sanctuary for polygamy, but its past is riddled with violence

Joel and Ervil LeBaron both believed they were prophets of God. But Ervil broke away and started his own church adhering to the concept of blood atonement.

PHOENIX — Ruth Warniner left LeBaron at the age of 15, escaped is the word she used.

The community was founded at the turn of the 20th century as a sanctuary for polygamy. Warniner says she was sexually abused by her stepfather -- a polygamist with nine wives. Warniner has more than 40 siblings.

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She's come back to visit since but says she never felt safe. Benjamin LeBaron was murdered in 2009 after he spoke out against the cartels.

"It's kind of sad actually and very heartbreaking that it's come back to my family's life there in LeBaron with the drug cartels," Warniner said. "There's always been that history of violence it just came from different places. When I was young it came from my family."    

Her father Joel and uncle Ervil both believed they were prophets of God. Ervil broke away from Warnier's father and started his own church adhering to the concept of blood atonement. It was blood to pay for sins.

The first to pay was his own brother, Warniner's father.

"There were three men who beat him up badly and killed him, shot him twice," she said. "I was only 3 months old actually when he was killed but I grew up still learning his philosophy. The community still even today follows many of his teachings."

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Ervil convinced his family and followers to kill at least 25 people in the 1970s and 80s before the cult fell apart. He was dubbed the Mormon Manson and sentenced to life in prison where he died.

Two of his sons were arrested in Arizona for auto theft and eventually charged with more murders in 1988.

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After that Warniner says there was a small period of peace until the cartels came along.

"It was the first thing that I noticed that there were soldiers and guns and police everywhere," Warniner said, "after dark, it was a ghost town. There were curfews, people weren't allowed after dark, closed windows."

The first of two funerals for the victims of the LeBaron massacre was Thursday.

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Three mothers and six children were ambushed on a dirt road, their cars were shot and set on fire. Five children were also shot but they survived.

The victims are being laid to rest in LeBaron.