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Two U.S. Mormon Missionaries Gunned Down In Bolivia

May 25, 1989

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) _ Two U.S. Mormon missionaries were shot and killed in downtown La Paz, and a group that tried to kill former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz last summer claimed responsibility.

Todd Ray Wilson and Jeffrey Brent Ball, both 20 and both from Coalville, Utah, were returning home late Wednesday when unidentified men shot them with machine guns. One of the victims died immediately, the other died en route to a hospital.

A radical leftist group, Zarate Willka Armed Liberation Front, claimed responsibility in a written statement distributed to La Paz newspapers.

″The violation of our sovereignty cannot go unpunished,″ the front said in a statement. ″The Yankee invaders who come to massacre our fellow farmers, be warned. We the poor have no other road than to rise up in arms. Our hatred is implacable and our war is to the death.″

The missionaries from the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lived in a poor neighborhood in La Paz. Police said they have no suspects in the killings, and no further details on the shooting were immediately available.

The Liberation Front was unknown until it claimed responsibility for an attempt in August to assassinate Shultz, who was in La Paz for talks with government officials. A bomb exploded near vehicles carrying him, his wife and members of his delegation. No one was injured in the attack.

The U.S. Embassy in La Paz said in a statement today that the United States ″deplores and condemns the assassination of two American citizens in an act that can only be described as cold-blooded murder. No cause, political or otherwise, can justify a crime of this nature.″

A spokesman for the Mormon Church in Bolivia said: ″It is a tragedy that we condemn and feel terrible about.″ The spokesman, who requested anonymity, said several churches have been damaged by bomb attacks in recent months.

In Salt Lake City, church spokesman Don LeFevre said it was the first time Mormon missionaries have been killed by terrorists. The 6.6 million-member Mormon church has about 35,000 missionaries worldwide. Under church rules, men serve two-year missions and women serve for 18 months.

Ball arrived in La Paz in June and Wilson in July, according to Steven Wright, president of the church’s La Paz mission.