Two missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were assassinated by terrorists late Wednesday as they were returning to their apartment in La Paz.
Elder Jeffrey Brent Ball, 20, Coalville, Utah, the son of Alfred Brent Ball and Lois Joyce Bates Ball, and Elder Todd Ray Wilson, 20, Wellington, Utah, son of Arvil Gray Wilson and Elaine Bunderson Wilson, were gunned down by automatic weapons fire about 10:20 p.m. Bolivia time (8:20 MDT).They were the first politically motivated killings of Mormon missionaries in memory, said LDS Church spokesman Don LeFevre.
"We are heartbroken at this terrible tragedy that has occurred," said Steven Rich Wright, president of the Bolivia La Paz Mission. "It's a terrible unprovoked attack on innocent victims who have nothing to do with the political and social philosophies of this or any other group."
LDS church buildings have been the target of at least one previous attack by the Armed Liberation Front of Zarate Willka, a radical leftist terrorist group. President Wright said the missionaries were apparently chosen at random.
A small, yellow compact car drove by the complex, firing into a crowd with 9mm weapons. No one else was injured.
In a statement printed by El Matunino Ultima Hora de la Paz, a La Paz newspaper, the terrorists said, "The violation of our national sovereignty cannot go unpunished. The Yankee invaders who come to massacre our fellow farmers are warned, as are their local slaves. We, the poor, have no other road than to rise up in arms. Our hatred is implacable, and our war is to the death."
Police said they have no suspects in the killings. No further details on the shooting were immediately available.
The mission president was notified of the shooting incident by another missionary who also lives in the apartment complex and immediately went to the scene. One of the elders died immediately; the other died 10-20 minutes later en route to a local hospital.
Elder Ball arrived in the mission in June, while Elder Wilson arrived in July.
Mission presidents for both the Bolivia La Paz and the Bolivia Cochabamba missions have ordered all missionaries to remain indoors until further notice from the church.
American officials at the U.S. Embassy in La Paz were meeting Thursday to discuss the incident.
The Liberation Front was unknown until the group claimed responsibility for an August assassination attempt against then-Secretary of State George Shultz, who was in La Paz for talks with government officials. A bomb exploded near vehicles carrying him, his wife and members of his delegation. No one was injured in the attack.
The leftist group also claimed responsibility for a power outage in October and is believed responsible for the bombing of an LDS chapel, U.S. Ambassador Richard Gilberd told President Wright.
Families, church leaders and friends of the two young men expressed tremendous shock over the senseless deaths.
"His parents are doing exceptionally well under the circumstances," said Myron Alma Richins, president of the Coalville Utah Stake, who notified the Balls Thursday at 1 a.m. of their son's death.
President Richins, who was Elder Ball's seminary teacher for four years, described the young man as "what every parent would want _ an ideal young man; very caring to others."
Elder Ball was a graduate of North Summit High School in Coalville and all-state football player. President Richins said Elder Ball "loved his mission."
"He wrote frequently expressing how much he appreciated the opportunity to serve and was doing a great job," President Richins said. "He had great love for what he was doing, and I appreciate the association I had with this young man."
Elder Ball entered the Missionary Training Center on June 1, 1988. President Richins said that Mrs. Ball was preparing a card for "hump day" _ Elder Ball's one-year anniversary in the mission field _ when notified of her son's death.
Elder Ball, who was born Dec. 8, 1968, is survived by a brother Greg, 18; and a sister, Wendy, a missionary in the Guatemala Guatemala City North Mission.
Elder Wilson was remembered as a quiet, unassuming young man who looked forward to his mission above all else. He did not play sports at Carbon High School, where he graduated in 1987, preferring instead to earn money for his mission.
"He worked at Wendy's (Old Fashion Hamburgers) all last year to earn money for his mission, and he worked late, late at night to do it," said Richard Morely, Elder Wilson's teacher at East Carbon Seminary.
Ironically, Elder Wilson's younger brother, Brad, was discussing a potential mission call with Wellington Stake President Roger Branch just two hours before news was received of his brother's death. An older sister already served a mission.
"I taught him in seminary, I home- taught him, I was his bishop," said President Branch. "I cried as if he were my own son. We're all very emotionally hurt. But we're all doing fine, the family's doing fine. It hurts, but there is no anger, no meanness."
"Todd was a fine gentleman," said Morely. "He was a quiet, good student who looked forward to his mission. His dad was a coal miner and had been out of work, so Todd earned most of the money himself for his mission. There was no doubt that he would ever go."
Both missionaries lived and worked in a poor neighborhood in northern La Paz. The church has about 400 missionaries and 40,000 church members in Boliva.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company