Randy McIlwain, NBC 5 News
The mother-in-law of a Cleburne woman who was shot to death during a robbery in Mexico says she is devastated by the deaths of Maria Hartsell and her two daughters.
A Cleburne woman and two of her children were shot to death early Thursday while traveling by bus in Mexico.
Mexican officials said a group of armed men killed seven people on buses in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz during a killing and robbery spree.
Maria Sanchez Hartsell, 39, and her daughters, 19-year-old Karla and 13-year-old Christina, were killed near the city of Veracruz.
"I am devastated physically and mentally," said Margaret Schneider, Maria Hartsell's mother-in-law. "I mean, it's just took a toll. I just haven't come to realize that this really happened."
Hartsell and her five children drove to the Texas-Mexico border and then took a bus into Mexico, feeling it would be safer, Schneider said.
Hartsell's daughter, Angie, was injured in the attack. Her 10-year-old son, Mike, was not injured. Both children are back in Texas and were expected home Tuesday.
Schneider said Hartsell's brother encouraged her to visit during the holidays despite warnings about violence.
"She was determined, because she wanted to see her family. She hadn't been there, I think, in about three years," Schneider said.
Schneider said her grandson, 10-year-old Mike Hartsell Jr., told her that the gunmen were slapping people on the bus.
He said they slapped his sister Angie, who has Down syndrome, because she couldn't follow their directions. His sister Christina then tried to fight one of the gunmen and was shot to death. He said his other sister, Karla, jumped a gunmen and was also shot. Their mother was shot last, he told his grandmother.
"Maria started fighting them, and they took a gun and shot her in the head," Schneider said.
Mike Hartsell Jr. said he is alive because a cousin riding with him held him back from trying to intervene on his mother and sisters' behalf.
"I'm going to miss all of them so much," Schneider said. "I just can't believe that somebody would take their life."
Several buses and cars were attacked Thursday as part of coordinated robberies near Veracruz.
The five men began their attacks before dawn by killing three people loading vegetables at a market in the Veracruz town of El Higo. They also threw a grenade nearby that killed another person.
They later stopped a bus, robbed the passengers and killed two passengers. The men stopped a second bus and killed four passengers, including Hartsell and her daughters, and then killed the driver of a third bus.
Mexican soldiers responded to the attacks, chased down and killed the five gunmen, who were armed with rifles and grenades.
The Mexican government announced Wednesday that it was disbanding the city of Veracruz's entire police department, saying the officers were assisting the drug cartel in smuggling drugs and contributing to violence.