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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kidnapped Mormons Released, 2 Men Detained




Two American missionaries with the Mormon Church, kidnapped last week in the Volga region of Saratov, were released Sunday as police detained two men suspected of abducting them.


"We have detained the organizer of this crime and one of those who carried out the abduction," said Yevgeny Redko of the Saratov region branch of the Federal Security Service, a successor to the KGB.


Both suspects have already admitted their guilt and have been identified by their victims, Redko said in a telephone interview Monday. Police were continuing the search for an unspecified number of accomplices.


Andrew Lee Propst of Lebanon, Oregon, and Travis Robert Tuttle of Gilbert, Arizona, were set free Sunday afternoon without any ransom paid for them, Redko said.


The two suspects were detained by police later Sunday.


The kidnappers initially demanded $300,000 for the release of the two 20-year-old Americans they snatched from a local Mormon church last Thursday.


Richard Hoagland, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, welcomed the news of the pair's release, saying the U.S. authorities "appreciate the excellent work" of Saratov police.


Donald Jarvis, president of the Moscow mission of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints, as the Mormons church is also known, said: "Upon their release, they were joyfully received ... eventually the abductors gave up hope of getting any ransom."


The Federal Security Service, or FSB, and police said the captors decided to let their victims go after failing to withstand the psychological pressure brought to bear on them by Saratov police.


"They had been contacted and told that keeping the hostages was the worst thing they could do," Stanislav Orlenko of the local police force said in a phone interview Monday.


"The measures taken by FSB and police have forced the criminals to abandon their plans ... they got scared," Redko said.


Both Tuttle and Propst reportedly suffered only minor injuries during their abduction. The Associated Press quoted Propst's father, Lee, as saying both his son and his fellow missionary had "a bump on the head" inflicted during the abduction.


Propst also had his finger injured when trying to deflect blows. Both suffered sore wrists from being kept in handcuffs.


The two had reportedly been kept at a country house near Saratov. At around 3 p.m. Thursday they were driven to one of the city's suburbs and released, Jarvis said. The missionaries then found their way to the nearest telephone and summoned fellow missionaries and the police.


Both Orlenko and Redko said the two missionaries have fully cooperated with the FSB investigators. Information given by Tuttle and Propst during debriefing enabled Saratov police to quickly track down and arrest the two suspects, Orlenko said, adding that as of Monday evening the hunt still continued for their accomplices.


If found guilty, the kidnappers face from six to 15 years in prison, Orlenko said.


Tuttle and Propst had already completed "all investigation procedures involving them" by Monday evening. Jarvis said there were no plans for the pair to leave Saratov. However, Alexander Nesterov, a reporter with the Saratovskiye Vesti newspaper, said they were expected to leave for Moscow on Monday evening.


Saratov police warned that more abductions of Mormon missionaries are possible if they continue proselytizing in the region.


"They should know how serious the criminal situation is here and yet they walk along streets trying to get acquainted to strangers and invite them to their apartments," said Orlenko.


-- Frank Brown contributed to this article.