Russian police have made 2 arrests in the kidnapping of a pair of LDS missionaries who were released unharmed early Sunday morning. A third suspect is still being sought.
Both of those arrested confessed to taking part in the abduction, said a spokesman for the Russian Federal Security Service, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said the two are residents of Saratov, a Russian city 450 miles southeast of Moscow, where the missionaries were abducted.After four days in the hands of kidnappers, Andrew Lee Propst, 20, Lebanon, Ore., and Travis Robert Tuttle, 20, Gilbert, Ariz., were dropped off outside Saratov and reportedly walked back into town. They immediately contacted police and representatives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
They appeared to be tired and a bit roughed up but uninjured.
The two missionaries were abducted Wednesday outside a private residence in Saratov. A note demanding $300,000 in ransom for their release was found the next morning on the doorstep of another church member's home in Saratov.
No ransom was paid for their re-lease.
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow provided sketchy details of the arrest and confession to Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah.
The duo arrested in the kidnapping were a young female, who allegedly made the calls demanding money, and a 45-year-old male accomplice. Their names were not released, but authorities said the man was one of the physical abductors and was considered more dangerous than the 20-year-old man still being sought by police.
Bennett said he was told the woman "turned" and identified two alleged accomplices.
"The motive appears to be completely money. This is not a group of people making any political statement or targeting the church in any way," Bennett said. "They saw this, apparently, as an opportunity for some quick cash."
Lee Propst told reporters in Oregon that his son and Tuttle were hit on the head with some type of weapon as they arrived at the residence. While captive, they were kept handcuffed but otherwise were not mistreated, Propst said.
Roy Tuttle reacted with jubilation to news that his son's alleged captors had been arrested. He learned of the arrests during an interview with "CBS This Morning."
"This is fantastic news," he said. "Maybe we can talk to him longer than three minutes now."
During phone calls to family Sunday, the two missionaries spoke only briefly and were not allowed to discuss details of the kidnapping because of the ongoing investigation.
Official word of their release came from U.S. Ambassador to Russia James Collins in a 6:30 a.m. phone call Sunday to Bennett.
Bennett, who was at home in Salt Lake City at the time, said the ambassador had personally spoken with Andrew Propst, who said they had been "roughed up" but were otherwise OK and "in good spirits."
Rep. Merrill Cook, R-Utah, said State Department officials told his office that "while the boys aren't in exactly perfect condition, there are no serious injuries."
Officials speculated early on that the crime had a monetary rather than political or religious motive.
"I asked (the U.S. ambassador) if there was any evidence of any kind of a plot or concerted effort to attack the church, and he said it appeared that the main motivation was ransom," Bennett said.
The kidnapping garnered intense interest and concern from the White House and powerful members of Congress as well as the international media, which brought extreme pressure to bear on Russian authorities.
Cook said the incident drew LDS members of Congress together. For example, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, sponsored letters of concern from LDS congressmen to President Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Oregon, personally asked the president to apply pressure to secure release of the two young men.
It's possible that the international political pressure in turn was applied locally in Saratov in such a way as to force the kidnappers to release the missionaries without ransom, Bennett said.
"This is wonderful news. The prayers of millions of people, including myself, have been answered," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Hatch said the FBI informed him of the arrests Monday morning.
"I hope they make examples of them to stop this from ever happening again," he added.
LDS Church officials, who maintained a cautious silence during the four days that the missionaries were missing, on Sunday welcomed the news with an expression of relief and gratitude.
"We are all rejoicing that the missionaries are safe," the First Presidency said in a statement Sunday from church headquarters in Salt Lake City.
Direct news of any kind concerning the abduction and subsequent release of the young men was hard to come by from official sources in Saratov as of Monday morning.
Police officials in Saratov either refused comment or said they had no information to give out.
Several calls placed to missionaries serving in the regions indicted that some restrictions may be placed on their movements. But again, details and confirmation were not available.
Mark Teerlink, whose missionary son, Jonathan, received the ransom demand, said the families of missionaries in Saratov have not formally heard of any planned changes in missionary operation. But "based on what the mayor (of Saratov) said earlier, I would kind of expect some kind of change" at least in the hours that missionaries pros-e-lyte.
Dring a press conference that was broadcast internationally, the mayor complained that it is hard to protect all the missionaries in the area. He hinted at a "crackdown" on how missionaries were allowed to go about their work.
The kidnappings attracted broad local interest in Saratov, according to Marina Sychiau, teenage daughter of former Russian Branch and Stake President Nikolai Vladimir Sychiau. "The whole neighborhood has talked of nothing else for the past few days," speculating on the motive and whereabouts of the young men.
She said it was unheard of in that area for such a kidnapping to happen. The consensus was that it was not mafia or religious persecution but someone wanting to extort money.
Church leaders did ask them to fast and pray for the safe return of the young men, she said.
President Bartell Jensen of the Lithuanian/Latvia mission in the Baltic States, an area formerly connected to the Soviet Republic whose membership includes many Russians living in the Baltic region, said they had not officially been informed of the missionaries' release by church officials and added they had instructed their elders to continue with normal missionary work, but to remember the Samaran missionaries in their prayers.