GALEANA-The eight children, some mere infants, who survived the ambush in northern Mexico not only escaped the drug cartel gunmen who killed their mothers but managed to hide in the brush, with some walking miles to get help despite grisly bullet wounds.

In a testament to a mother’s devotion, one woman reportedly stashed her baby on the floor of her Suburban and got out of the vehicle, waving her arms to show the gunmen she wasn’t a threat. She may have moved away from the vehicle to distract their attention; her bullet-ridden body was found about 15 yards (meters) away from the SUV.

The mother was one of nine U.S. citizens — three women and six children all living in northern Mexico — slaughtered Monday when cartel gunmen ambushed three SUVs along a dirt road in an attack that left one vehicle a burned-out, bullet-riddled hulk. Mexican officials said the gunmen may have mistaken the group’s large SUVs for those of a rival gang amid a vicious turf war.

The five wounded children were seriously enough injured that Mexican authorities flew them to the border in a military helicopter to receive hospital care in the United States. Sonora state health officials said they were “stable” at the moment of transfer. Three other children who were not wounded are in the care of family members in the tiny hamlet of La Mora in northern Mexico.

But what the children went through in the remote, mountainous area of Sonora state is nearly indescribable.

Kendra Miller, a relative, said in an account of the shootings that Devin Blake Langford, 13, was one of the few uninjured young people and quickly took charge, eventually walking about 14 miles (22.5 kilometers) back to La Mora for help.

“After witnessing his mother and brothers being shot dead, Devin hid his six other siblings in the bushes and covered them with branches to keep them safe while he went for help,” according to the account. “When he took too long to return, his 9-year-old sister left the remaining five to try again.”

That girl, Mckenzie Rayne Langford, walked for hours in the dark before she was found several hours after the other children were rescued. She was listed as missing for a while.

Altogether, the kids were on their own from about 1:00 p.m., when the ambush began, until about 7:30 p.m., when they were rescued. Relatives from La Mora tried to reach them before that, but were turned back by gunfire. The area is the site of a cartel turf war.

In recordings of calls between the rescuers, they can be heard debating whether it was better to risk more lives, or wait for an hour or two until Mexican army troops arrived. It was an agonizing decision. What they saw when they found the children was terrifying.