Two Mormon missionaries who were kidnapped say their abductors were under the impression that the church was wealthy and could afford to pay $300,000 in ransom.
The 20-year-old men also said they feared they would be executed when their Russian kidnappers realized the ransom would not be paid, one of the missionary’s family members told The Oregonian in today’s editions.
Andrew Lee Propst, 20, Lebanon, Ore., and Travis Robert Tuttle, 20, Gilbert, Ariz., were going to a March 18 appointment in Saratov, Russia, set up by someone purportedly interested in the church, when they were ambushed and beaten by masked men.
They were held captive for four days as their captors demanded the $300,000 ransom. The missionaries were released Sunday morning without the kidnappers receiving the money.
Propst, in a telephone conversation with his parents in Oregon on Friday, said he appealed to the kidnappers to seek peace with the Lord during the ordeal.
“Andy said every chance they got, they tried to teach them the Gospel,” his father, Lee Propst, told The Oregonian.
According to their families’ accounts of the kidnapping, a 20-year-old man apparently had visited a church the previous Sunday and befriended the missionaries. He asked whether they would come to his home later in the week to provide more information about their church.
They arranged a visit for Wednesday, March 18.
When Propst and Tuttle arrived at the apartment in Saratov, the 20-year-old and an older man ambushed them. The two men attacked them with baseball bats, striking them on the head. The men cuffed the missionaries’ hands and taped their eyes and mouths shut. For the next four days, they remained bound while their captors held guns to their heads and threatened to poison them if their church did not pay the ransom.
Their captors didn’t feed them for 36 hours and then offered not much more than a hot dog. They then had to hold out for food another 1 days.
They learned that the kidnappers apparently had read an article or watched a television program about the Mormon church and thought the church would pay a ransom because it had wealth to send missionaries around the world and provide refuge for new believers.
On the fourth day, the two abductors took them for a ride that lasted about 45 minutes. The vehicle stopped, and their abductors said, “Let’s go.” Propst or Tuttle asked whether the church had paid the ransom. It had not. Propst and Tuttle were removed from the vehicle and placed face down on the ground. They thought they were going to be executed.
Instead, the kidnappers removed their handcuffs and ordered them to stay down for two minutes.
Propst and Tuttle heard the vehicle drive away. They helped each other remove the tape from their eyes, hugged each other and said a prayer. They waved down a truck for a ride and then called the church.
LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley said the church never considered paying the ransom.
“We have a policy against paying ransom. If we begin that, there’s no end to what might be expected,” he said.
Police have arrested two suspects - a woman who allegedly set up the ambush and a 44-year-old man who authorities say is a former Mormon and helped set up a branch of the church in Saratov in 1993.
A third suspect remains at large.