March 25, 1998 in Nation/World

Pair Confesses To Kidnapping Missionaries Mormon Men To Remain In Russia For Now To Help Police With Case

Associated Press
 

Two Mormon missionaries held hostage for four days in southern Russia will remain in the region to assist the police investigation, then be reassigned, church and U.S. officials said.

Andrew Lee Propst, 20, of Lebanon, Ore., and Travis Robert Tuttle, 20, of Gilbert, Ariz., were freed Sunday in Saratov, about 450 miles southeast of Moscow.

A man and a woman were arrested Monday in the kidnapping and have confessed, Russian officials said. A third suspect remains at large.

Propst and Tuttle intend to stay in Saratov as long as needed to help police, U.S. Embassy spokesman Richard Hoagland said.

Meanwhile, the Russian news agency Interfax quoted Russian security officials as saying one of the two people arrested was a businessman who had co-founded a branch of the Mormon Church in Saratov, then later quit the church.

The Mormon Church’s European spokeswoman, Gabrielle Sirtl, said the two men will be reassigned to other Mormon missions. Speaking by telephone from Frankfurt, Germany, she said their new posts have not been determined.

“I’m just so thankful that he’s mentally and physically able to do that,” said Propst’s mother, Mary Propst, in Lebanon, Ore.

The two men told their families that they were ambushed and struck over the head last Wednesday when they arrived at a private house for a meeting. Neither was injured seriously.

The kidnappers demanded $300,000 in ransom but gave up the hostages without being paid, dropping them off along a rural road.

Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, said the motive appeared to have been money and that the group was not trying to target the Mormon Church. He suggested the abductors may have been scared off by the intense interest in the case.

The two former hostages have been able to speak by telephone with their families in the United States. Tuttle’s father, Roy Tuttle, said from Arizona that his son was in “good spirits.”

© Copyright 1998 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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