The bodies of two missionaries killed in La Paz, Bolivia, were returned to Utah Sunday afternoon.
Family members and officials of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gathered on the tarmac as Delta Flight 705 brought home the bodies of slain elders Jeffrey Brent Ball, 20, of Wanship, and Todd Ray Wilson, 20, of Wellington.Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Council of the Twelve Apostles issued a statement expressing the sympathy and compassion of the First Presidency of the church.
"These missionaries returned here today have performed a noble service in the country of Bolivia," said Elder Ballard. "We pray hearts will be softened and that never again such a tragedy will occur." He reiterated that the LDS Church preaches a "gospel of peace."
"This tragedy was totally unprovoked," said Elder Ballard. "It came out of the blue."
Elder Ballard said the church has great concern for the missionaries remaining in Bolivia and that they are still being confined to their apartments. "We'll probably be in a holding pattern for a few days," said Elder Ballard."We are concerned over the nature of the violence."
The two missionaries were assassinated as they were about to enter their apartment Wednesday evening. A terrorist group calling itself the Armed Liberation Front of Zarate Willka is claiming responsibility for the murders.
"Missionaries will continue to serve in Bolivia," said Elder Ballard. "But we want families to know the church is doing all it can to protect missionaries throughout the world."
Members of the Ball family were present Sunday, including Elder Ball's parents, his brother, a grandfather and his sister, Wendy, who is taking a leave from her mission in the Guatemala-Guatemala City North Mission for her brother's funeral.
Funeral services for both missionaries will be held Tuesday at noon. Services for Elder Wilson will be held in the Wellington LDS Stake Center, and services for Elder Ball will be at the Carbon LDS Stake Center.
Craig Davis, West Valley City, was at the airport returning from a business trip to Baltimore as the missionaries' bodies were placed in the two waiting hearses.
As he watched, tears came to his eyes. His son, Jason Davis, is currently serving a mission in La Paz.
"My wife was just coming home from an appointment when she received a call telling her that two missionaries were killed in Bolivia," said Davis. "After she found out Jason was all right, she still had to call him, `just to hear his voice,' she said."
Craig Davis said his son's major concern was for his contacts, those people he was proselyting. "He knows that if they leave now it will be quite some time before anyone contacts them again (about the church)," said Davis. The younger Davis was sent to La Paz about a month ago.
"Their (the missionaries') biggest concern isn't for themselves, and I'm sure that's part of the problem," said Davis. "It tests your faith. It really does."
Elder Davis has about 14 months left on his mission. "I just don't know how I'm going to live through the next year if he stays there," said his mother.