Two LDS missionaries who were kidnapped in Russia will be reassigned to new missions for the LDS Church, which will continue its missionary efforts throughout Russia.
The pair, Andrew Lee Propst, 20, Lebanon, Ore., and Travis Robert Tuttle, 20, Gilbert, Ariz., were abducted while proselyting in the city of Saratov, 450 miles southeast of Moscow. Four days later, they were freed outside of town and contacted police and officials of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.Parents of the kidnap victims were able to speak to their sons briefly Sunday but have not had any contact with them since then. The Propst family has scoured a Russian news video broadcast Monday to build an assessment of Andy Propst's condition.
"It was a good comfort for all of us to see Andy," said his brother-in-law John Strickling from the Propst family home in Lebanon Tuesday morning.
The family searched the brief video clip for clues about injuries the missionary might have suffered in the ordeal. Some reports said he had broken a finger, but they saw no bandages on his hands, only bruises around his eye, Strickling said.
The demanded $300,000 ransom was never paid, and Russian police arrested two suspects Monday, a woman of unidentified age and a 45-year-old man. Police still seek a 20-year-old male suspect.
Bruce L. Olsen, managing director of public affairs for the LDS Church, issued a statement Monday afternoon announcing plans to reassign the young men.
He said the two will be transferred from the Russia Samara Mission to other missions that have yet to be determined. Tuttle's mission is scheduled to end in November; Propst will serve another year.
The church had no new information to release Tuesday, a spokesman said.
The LDS Church has seven missions in Russia with 500 missionaries and about 6,000 members. The missions, including the Russia Samara Mission in which Tuttle and Propst were serving at the time of their abduction, will continue operation. The church has 57,000 members serving missions around the globe.
In Gilbert, Ariz., Donna and Roy Tuttle learned through the media their son would be reassigned to another LDS mission. They did not expect to receive confirmation from church officials for at least a few more days.
The Tuttles said they had expected their son to be reassigned. Donna Tuttle said she doesn't think Travis Tuttle will come home for a visit, even if his new assignment is in the United States
"I really don't want him to come home if he's going to stay (on his mission) because then we'd have to say goodbye to him," she said Tuesday.
But she said she wouldn't be surprised, or concerned, if her son remained in Russia. He studied the language for two years in high school and had always wanted to go to Russia. "He knows his discussions in Russian, and he'd have to relearn them" if transferred to a non-Russian-speaking mission. "It could be a different part of Russia if they just take him from that Samara mission, and there are Russian missions in the U.S."
Meanwhile, Russian police provided little information about the two held in custody or the third suspect. A spokesman for the Federal Security Service did say that the two are residents of Saratov and had confessed to their parts in the kidnapping.
Police believe Tuttle and Propst were invited to the woman suspect's house to proselyte, where they were hit over the head and abducted. During their four days in captivity, they were moved around several times.
Officials dispute early speculation that the kidnappings may have been intended to help end the LDS proselyting efforts in the Samara region of Russia. They say that the kidnapping had no political or religious motivation but was merely a criminal act committed by a trio who saw it as an easy way to get money, according to Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah.
Both church and U.S. government officials praised the Russian police force for the speed with which it made arrests. Bennett said that the U.S. State Department and the FBI had both made personnel and resources available to help in the investigation, but the assistance wasn't needed.
Monday afternoon, State Department spokesman Jim Foley briefed the Washington press corps on the continuing investigation. He said that Tuttle and Propst were taken immediately to the police station to be debriefed, and they remain in Saratov to help police with the investigation. Two American consul officers and church officials are with them.
"We are extremely pleased at the safe conclusion of this matter. We appreciate the excellent work and cooperation of Russian authorities in bringing this situation to a successful close," Foley said.