Through Tuesday, Babeu and his office continued to draw a connection between the five deaths and drug-cartel smuggling violence, even after receiving information from Tempe police on Monday that seemed to shift the focus of the investigation to a missing family who Tempe police suspected may have died in a murder-suicide incident.
Tempe police said Tuesday that they went to the family's house at 2 p.m. Monday and found obvious signs of a crime and notified the Pinal County Sheriff's Office shortly thereafter.
Late Tuesday morning, Tempe police informed the Sheriff's Office that they had confirmed that the burned vehicle found in the Vekol Valley belonged to the family.
At an afternoon news conference, Sgt. Jeff Glover said the victims were the Butwin family of Tempe and knocked down the theory that their deaths were linked to cartel drug smuggling, as Pinal County sheriff's investigators had originally stated.
Still, late Tuesday afternoon, the Pinal County Sheriff's Office continued to send out a news release that said homicide detectives were continuing to pursue a possible drug-smuggling/cartel connection. It wasn't until the end of the two-page release that the statement mentioned the missing Tempe family.
Babeu's reaction to the incident isn't the first time he has used violence in Pinal County to score points about an unsecure border and make claims about Mexican cartel violence spilling into Arizona. In April 2011, The Arizona Republic reported that there was no data to back up Babeu's frequent claim that Pinal County was "the No. 1 pass-through county in all of America for drug and human trafficking." The Republic also concluded that other claims by Babeu were either exaggerated or contradicted by statistics.
Eric Olson, an expert on drug-cartel violence in Mexico, said he can understand why Babeu saw a connection to drug smuggling, given the area where the vehicle was found and the similarity with some of the killings carried out by cartels in Mexico. But he said Babeu was too quick to publicly blame the deaths on the drug cartels.
"It's not unreasonable to look into it, given the area that it took place, but it's really important to get to the facts before drawing conclusions," said Olson, associate director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.