A local family received terrifying news followed immediately by relieving news as one if its own was allegedly kidnapped at knifepoint and subsequently released on Saturday, Feb. 15, while serving an LDS mission in Saratov, Russia.
“Elder Jeffrey Alan Owen of Coppell, Texas, and Elder Kamron Hunter Call of Moab, Utah, both serving in the Russia Samara Mission, were robbed by a man they had met for a teaching appointment.” Cody Craynor, spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, told KSL on Sunday, Feb. 16. “The man forcibly drove them to an ATM and demanded they withdraw cash and then let them go. The missionaries were not harmed during the incident and are safe.”
Call, 19, graduated salutatorian from Grand County High School in 2013.
The man called pretending to be interested in the church, according to details given to the Call family by the mission’s president, which they later posted on Facebook. Upon meeting the 24-year-old suspect, he immediately began “behaving very rudely and being very loud.”
Michael Call, Kamron Call’s older brother, posted on his Facebook page that the man pulled a knife on them and began threatening to kill them while the man’s 21-year-old wife made phone calls asking how much she could get for the missionaries’ possessions.
The duo called some Ukrainian friends to discuss killing the missionaries, but the Ukrainians refused, prompting the man and his wife to take the missionaries to an ATM machine so they could get money from the pair. Upon receiving some cash, the man calmed down, Michael Call said in the post.
“Through divine intervention, a miracle happened,” he said in the post. “The man calmed down. He gave the missionaries their phones back and even enough money so they could get to a baptism they were supposed to make it to that night. (The suspect) said ‘Now you know how real Russians will treat you,’ and let them go.”
Kamron Call’s father, Russell Call, said the family was initially shaken up upon hearing the news.
“It was a bit scary to hear about it,” he said. “But they told us in the same breath that he was okay, so it’s definitely not as bad as it could have been.”
Michael Call said that remaining calm may have saved the lives of Kamron Call and his companion.
“Before you go on a mission, they tell you to react to just about any situation,” Michael Call said. “Don’t antagonize them, don’t indulge their behavior. Remain calm and let them act how they’re going to act.”
Kamron Call was able to speak with his father on the night of the incident, but couldn’t speak to his mother, Kimberly Call, until the next day because she was in Arizona and he had to spend much of the night speaking to Russian police.
“Kamron spoke with my parents,” Michael Call said in an interview. “It shook him up a little bit, but he’s in good spirits and he’s ready to continue to serve.”
Russell Call said the suspect was known to the missionaries, as well as Russian authorities, whom he said handled the situation well, and with increased emphasis on safety of Americans in Russia because of the ongoing Olympic Games in Sochi, the suspect will be caught quickly.
“The mission president said he feels bad for the guy when they catch him,” Russell Call said. “It’s not going to well for him.”
Kamron Call and his companion will continue their mission upon capture of the suspects, Russell Call said.
“Police know the guy, who is an ex-con,” Russell Call said. “Kamron and his companion will be sequestered to their apartment until the suspects are caught.”
According to a Sept. 4, 2013 press release from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “occurences like these are rare, and missionary work is inherently safe.”
“The Church does everything it can to ensure the safety of its missionaries, including providing training in personal safety and good health practices, repeated instruction for missionaries on auto and bicycle safety, and ongoing consultation with local church leaders about the safety of specific areas and neighborhoods,” according to the release.
According to the release, Mormon missionaries have a much smaller mortality rate than people in the general population. Russell Call said the last missionary kidnapping in Russia was the for which the movie “The Saratov Approach” is based on, which occurred in 1998. Russell Call said Kamron Call and his companion may live in the same apartment as the 1998 missionaries, which could not be confirmed.
“Kids are safer on their missions than they are at home in high school or college,” Russell Call said. “Incidents like these don’t happen very often, but when they do it’s a big deal.”
19-year-old LDS missionary says he and another man were held against will and robbed
“The man forcibly drove them to an ATM and demanded they withdraw cash and then let them go. The missionaries were not harmed during the incident and are safe.”