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Missionaries’ fate is still unknown

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The whereabouts of two LDS missionaries abducted Wednesday in Saratov, Russia, remained unknown Friday as did the motive for the kidnapping and any hint about the victims' safety.

Other missionaries in the Russia Samara mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been instructed by the church to cease their activities and stay in their apartments following the abduction of Elders Andrew Lee Propst, 20, Lebanon, Ore., and Travis Robert Tuttle, 20, Gilbert, Ariz.A consular officer from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow arrived in Saratov Friday to help in the American government's investigation into the kidnapping, said State Department spokeswoman Maria Rudensky, who characterized the incident as a "very grave matter."

"There are no big developments this morning," Rudensky said. "Not anything significant - no progress."

Saratov is a city of almost 1 million people in Russia's Samara region, situated along the Volga River 450 miles southeast of Moscow.

There are several reports that a ransom note demanding $300,000 was left on the doorstep of another Latter-day Saint in Saratov.

LDS members of Congress from Utah and Oregon reacted quickly and sternly to the kidnapping.

Initial reports of the abduction became public after the FBI notified Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Wednesday morning. Church officials released information about the kidnapping only after receiving press inquiries.

Families of both missionaries told the Deseret News they have been asked not to say anything publicly to protect their sons' safety. The State Department also withheld information delivered by FBI investigators in Russia "so as not to jeopardize the safety of the two Americans involved," Rudensky said. "We are keeping the families of the two Americans informed of developments."

The son of Salt Lake resident Mark Teer-link is also an LDS missionary in Saratov. Jonathan Teerlink knows the two missionaries who were abducted and told his father on the telephone Thurs-day the abduction stood in sharp contrast to the experience he has had as a missionary over the past 13 months.

"It's been a normal missionary experience. People have been very open and very accommodating," Mark Teerlink said. "I'm really kind of thinking and hoping that this is an isolated deal where somebody's looking for money."

The report of a ransom demand creates a dilemma with worldwide implications for the church, which has 57,000 missionaries in 137 countries and territories around the globe. LDS missionaries, many of them American, have been targets of street violence and Anti-American conflicts elsewhere in the world.

Rudensky said the State Department has a standing policy of not paying ransom demands if government employees are abducted. The policy says, "The U.S. government believes that paying ransom or making other concessions to terrorists in exchange for the release of hostages increases the danger that others will be taken."

Mark Teerlink said his son had never been out of the country before going to Russia as a missionary. Jonathan was somewhat concerned about conditions there until he arrived but has felt safe and secure since, considering petty friction with local police as part of the adventure of missionary work.

"The police are suspect," said Salt Lake resident Steve Spencer, who recently returned from an LDS mission in Russia.

"Corruption in Russia is a big problem. Usually missionaries are affected by it because they have encounters with the police. Maybe once a week I was stopped by police, and they asked for my identification, usually because they wanted a bribe," Spencer said.

"I felt safer at night on the streets of Moscow than I do on State Street" in Salt Lake City, he added.

Farmington resident Arlo Nelson was the president of the Samara mission from July 1993 to July 1996.

Police may be party to petty bribes, he said, "but when it came to investigating (serious incidents), they were very thorough and did a good job."

About the kidnapping, the former mission president said he hopes the incident is isolated. "I choose to think that this is not a mafia-related organized crime thing. I think it's probably a singular incident."

Brigham Young University student Craig Rydalch was in the Samara mission in 1995 and has a similar opinion about the police there, especially when foreigners are in trouble. "It seems to me they're really concerned about their image with the rest of the world, so they really tried to protect us."

Christensen and Rydalch agree most of the heckling that missionaries saw during their time in Russia came from delinquent teenagers and drunks.

Ross Christensen was Andrew Propst's LDS stake president in Lebanon, Ore., when the young man was called as a missionary. Christensen is also a close associate with Propst's father, Leroy Galen Propst, who is an LDS bishop.

"He is a very active young man. Very enthusiastic," Christiansen said of the missionary. "He went out with the missionaries (in Oregon) probably three times a week before he was called (to Russia).

Christiansen said he was notified of the abduction about 4:30 a.m. Wednesday by Elder Earl C. Tingey, executive director of the church's missionary department.

After two LDS missionaries were shot in separate incidents near Buenos Aires last year, one of them seriously wounded, Elder Tingey told the Deseret News that missionaries take extra precautions in an often-dangerous world.

Missionaries are required to travel in pairs. "They are to walk on lighted streets, walk quickly and with purpose and don't linger," Elder Tingey said, and are required to be off the streets and in their apartments by 9:30 p.m.

Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, issued a statement, saying, "Obviously, the kidnapping of these young men is extraordinarily troubling. My thoughts are with them and their families as we pray for their safe and immediate return.

"In the meantime, I am cooperating fully with the proper authorities, both in the LDS Church and the federal government, in dealing with this situation. However, because of the great sensitivity associated with the circumstance, the release of any additional information should appropriately come from those authorities."

Rep. Merrill Cook, R-Utah, also issued a statement, saying, "The kidnapping of these two young men is appalling. My office has contacted the State Department and asked for aggressive American involvement in getting these boys back safely. I will follow up with State Department officials.

"My heart goes out to the Tuttle and Propst families. I can only imagine the anguish and suspense they must be feeling. My family and I join other Utahns and members of the LDS Church around the world in praying for the safe and prompt return of their sons."