More on the Murders of Elders Ball and Wilson

A friend pointed out to me this web site that contains some really good information about the murders:

Martyrs in the Cause of the Lord

An interesting excerpt shows that the mission president knew, or should have known, that these two missionaries in particular were in danger but “did not feel inspired” to move them:

When Elders Ball and Wilson arrived in Bolivia in 1988, they entered an environment of severe political unrest and anti-Mormon antagonism in the nation and in Latin America generally. The first violent attacks against The Church of Jesus Christ occurred in Colombia where two meetinghouses were bombed eight times. (19) Between 1984 and 1989, targets of The Church of Jesus Christ in Latin America were hit by terrorists sixty-two times. The majority of these attacks (46) occurred in Chile, though five attacks took place in Bolivia. The Church of Jesus Christ in Latin America was attacked in this period more frequently than any other American-based bank, business, Church, or other institution. (20)

One group that specifically targeted The Church of Jesus Christ in Bolivia was known as Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Zarate Willka (hereafter referred to as FAL Zarate Willka), named for a nineteenth century Indian hero. (21) FAL Zarate Willka was apparently formed around 1985, but was relatively unknown. It first surfaced in August 1988 in connection with a failed attack on former Secretary of State George Shultz, who was in La Paz for talks with government officials. A bomb exploded near his motorcade, but no one was hurt. The group later claimed responsibility for an attack on the Bolivian Parliament and caused a blackout in La Paz with another bombing. Later that year on December 20, 1989, protesting American intervention in Panama, they attacked the U.S. Embassy in a failed attempt to assassinate U.S. Ambassador Robert Gelbard. (22)

This group had previously assaulted the Church on several occasions. At one point, not long before the assassinations, it bombed the Villa Victoria chapel in Elder Ball and Wilson’s area, which sustained severe damage to the entrance and exterior facade. (23) A former sister missionary, Lynn (Skie) Florman, who had been working in a nearby area at the time, and who saw the chapel the next day, describes:

At one point, the chapel in Villa Victoria (a few blocks from where the Elders were killed, and in their area) had its doors blown off in an explosion just after several members had left a choir practice one evening. We saw it the next day, and were shown how the intruders had sawed one part of the back fence enough to be able to swing it up and crawl under it to get into the church grounds. Witnesses that night said that they had seen a cardboard box under the pew inside the front door, which is where the explosion occurred. All of us were concerned, especially because the graffiti written on the side of the chapel said “Americans go home.” (24)

Other chapels were robbed, and another nearby chapel was nearly bombed. A young man took the bomb home to his family, where somehow, it never detonated. This same sister, Lynn Florman, visited that family the next day, who lived in her area. She reports:

It seems a couple weeks later, we were talking with a family in the Barrio Alto San Pedro about an incident that had happened after Mutual the night before. This family lived across the street from the chapel. That night their young son had seen a cardboard box under the pew by the front door and had brought it home thinking that it belonged to one of the members. The next morning he showed it to his mother, who opened the box. Inside was a bomb that had not detonated. The family left their home and called police, who came to investigate the bomb. According to this family, the bomb had two wires, one which acted as a backup. The police told them that, although the first wire was disconnected, the second was still intact, and they had no explanation why the bomb had not gone off. The mother was convinced that it was a miracle. Again the graffiti on the chapel said “Americans go home.” (25)

As a result of these experiences, she reported the incidents to the Mission President, Steven R. Wright, who did not feel inspired to remove missionaries from the area, but counseled them to live close to the spirit and follow that inspiration. Not long after, tragedy transpired.


42 Responses to More on the Murders of Elders Ball and Wilson

  1. Soy Yo says:

    Reading that makes me sick. “Live close to the spirit and follow that inspiration”. what kind of counsel is that when bombs are being set off in the church that are aimed at Americans? While on my mission, we spent a lot of our time at the church and so did the members. President Wright should feel pretty bad about what happened to these guys while under is wing. Protection of the missionaries should have been first priority when things like that are happening.

  2. ditchu says:

    People die, that is a fact. Who are we to stop it? Protection is not the realm of man when God has a plan. Death is not the end, it never will be.

  3. capt jack says:


    So I assume you don’t wear seat-belts, cross the street when and where you please, don’t have physical checkups or allow your children to be vaccinated. After all, people die, that’s a fact, and “who are we to stop it”.

    While you’re at it, you might as well write the COB and let them in on your philosophy. No use paying for security for Mr Monson, after all, “people die, that’s a fact, and who are we to stop it”.

    Please, that attitude is ridiculous. If you take reasonable precautions to prevent the untimely death of yourself and your loved ones, it isn’t unreasonable to expect the church to do the same for its missionaries abroad.

    The facts speak for themselves–during the years from 1989 to 1991 when 5 missionaries were brutally murdered in Latin America, the church didn’t do all it could to prevent their murders.

  4. capt jack says:


  5. ditchu says:

    My point (and I should have clarified better) is that we can do only so much to prevent death from happening. I have seen people taken from this life at a time that I think is “untimely.” Babies pass away in their sleep and we call it SIDS. I have knowen a young man age 22 had a full medical checkup stating “Perfict helth” and a week later died due to a heartattack. Criminals not only affect the people thay victimise but stray bullets take lives and some times children are innocentlly guned down by these stray bullets. There is no insuerance to prevent Death and even if you do all things humanly possible to secure your life there is no garentee that you will not die. True seatbelts save lives but there are times that even when a seatbelt is employed the victum dies. I do many things to safeguard my family and myself but I do not have the expectation that I could do enough to prevent death. I know my limmitations and preventing death or predicting it are not abilities I posses, That is God’s territory. There is a difference to being reasonable and accepting that people do die, and being stupid and not taking precausions to protect body and limb. Even with great mental powers, I cannot stop a bullet speeding to its victum, can You? How is it reasonable to think a mission president has superior powers to this end. I guess it still remainds in God’s hands, all we can do is pray for positive results and trust that God knows what he is doing better than we could. But this explanation is not a chatchy as “People die, that is a fact. Who are we to stop it?”

  6. runtu says:

    ditchu, the mission president knew that the elders’ area had been targeted. The chapel had been bombed, and the message had been given: “Americans go home.” The missionaries in the area had voiced their concern, and the mission president told them just to follow the spirit. How does it require “superior powers” to know that they were in danger?

    I’m sure that mission president will have to live with his poor choices for the rest of his life, and I feel bad for him. But there was no reason these boys had to die.

  7. capt jack says:


    Your second response indicates an attitude that every adult, or at least every reasonable adult, on this planet accepts and understands. It isn’t summed up in the phrase you used in the initial post; in fact, to deduce it from your first post would require a mind reader with the abilities of Joseph Smith.

    “There is a difference to being reasonable and accepting that people do die, and being stupid and not taking precausions to protect body and limb.”

    Is it reasonable to keep missionaries in an area that has been bombed? Is it reasonable, after two missionaries were killed and the perpetrators still at large, to allow missionaries to continue proselytizing in their “uniforms” complete with nametags? Is it reasonable to fire a BYU professor who gave you a simple way to disengage the church’s image with that of the United States?

    Is it reasonable, after the murder of two native missionaries in Peru, to pull out the North Americans and leave the locals behind? Is it any surprise that another local missionary was murdered not long after?

    It isn’t reasonable at all–it’s stupid, yet every action detailed above was taken by the LDS church in the wake of the missionaries murders of 1989, 1990, and 1991.

  8. ditchu says:

    Is it reasonable to succumb to the will of terrorists, even if their tactics become overtly lethal? No. Such actions only create more situations of global terror. This is why the U.S. does not negotiate with these groups. If we give in to their demands we only validate their methods. I have had family in a situation that they were in harms way in a hot zone of terrorism. Did I complain and ask for them to come home, or be moved out of this hot zone? No. I understood that the job they were doing was worth any risk of injury or death. Terrorists did want them to leave but giving in and leaving would only strengthen the terrorist resolve and validate their horrific methods to push their propaganda. Also leaving the area would have left the important Duties to some one else, or undone. Either result would make my family members remiss in their sworn duties.
    There are more important things than Life and worse things than death.

  9. capt jack says:

    “I understood that the job they were doing was worth any risk of injury or death.”

    OK–so in this case a few more inactive Bolivians are worth a couple of young lives. Got it.

    Because that is what we’re talking about here, missionary work in a country where traditionally 90+% of baptisms go immediately inactive. Another thing–pulling missionaries out of an area until a realistic threat assessment can be conducted isn’t ‘succumbing to the will of terrorists’. It’s good sense.

    At the very least, the young men themselves and their families should have been the ones making the decision to stay, not some president and area presidency safely esconced in a gated community complete with armed guards.

    I’d believe you that this was the church’s philosophy if they’d subsequently sent grandchildren of General Authorities to the ‘hot spots’ in Peru and Bolivia. Trouble is they didn’t; in fact, they pulled out all the North American missionaries and left the Latin Americans in place, even though more of them had been murdered than had North Americans.

    So, in the case of the missionary murders between 1989 and 1991, your final statement should be amended to read “There are more important things than the Life of little brown people and worse things than death, so long as those dying are also little brown people”.

  10. runtu says:

    Pathetic. Let’s not do the sensible and prudent thing because if we do, the terrorists win. Jack, you’re absolutely right about the futility of it all. Two guys have to die so that we can have a handful more of inactive Bolivians.

    If we’re not supposed to give in to the terrorists, then the church shouldn’t have responded in any way but should have defiantly and proudly left all the missionaries in place. They didn’t, obviously, and left the Bolivians and Peruvians to face the danger alone.

    • steve says:

      Not true! I stayed. As did several others.
      Your story also missed the bombing of the chapel in Hamacas Santa Cruz.

      • runtu says:

        I was just quoting what I read, as I was obviously not in Bolivia at the time (I was there 3 years earlier). I would love it if you explained what happened so that we have the whole story. If you’re up for it, write something up and send it to me at I will make whatever you write its own post, with no edits from me, except for grammar, punctuation, and typos. I’m a writer by profession, so I am a little anal-retentive about such things.

  11. ditchu says:

    I will not admend my statment, it stands as is and is ment in general terms not to pick out specific instances only. As a general policy I do not see the error in the reasoning that therre are things more important than Life and things worse than death. I will leave it up to you to decide what those things are in your philosophy.

    Mistakes will be made, and I think the ultimate decision was left up to the families and the missionaries, They are after all Voleentary and can remove themselves from the mission feild at any time.
    So who ultimatly made the decision to stay?


  12. runtu says:

    You are kidding, aren’t you? Did you read any of my mission memoirs? We couldn’t “remove ourselves,” as we didn’t have our passports. The church had them. Did you read the account of the aftermath of the murders? The ultimate decision was not left to the families and the missionaries. The church removed them, sending most home and reassigning others, whether they wanted to leave or not.

    Why are you so insistent on rewriting history?

  13. ditchu says:

    Would the Church keep you in the mission feild if you told them you were not worthy? I think not. There are many ways to exit the situation, you are just looking at it in a limmited perspective. Did these young men trust the church to protect them? Most likely. But did they take responcibility for their own safty? If they did then they would have taken upon themselves any blame in the results. If they did not, then they gave up their choice over to the church.

  14. runtu says:

    Of course we gave our choice over to the church. I wonder if you served a mission, or you wouldn’t have said such a silly thing.

    According to you, the only way to voluntarily leave is to lie and say you aren’t worthy.

    People in our mission were sent home only if they were dangerously ill or if they committed a grievous sin. One guy said repeatedly he wanted to go home, and the MP used everything he had to keep the guy from going home: guilt from parents and leaders at home, and peer pressure.

    ditchu, I seriously wonder if you belong to the same church I do.

  15. capt jack says:


    The question I’ve just got to ask: did you go on a mission?

    Judging by your responses I’d say you didn’t, but I’m ready to be surprised.

    I mean really, even suggesting the missionaries could’ve feigned some moral transgression to escape from a terrorist threat is absurd.

    It’s OK to admit that, in this case at least, the church ‘bricked it’. Their responses to the situation were bad and got worse as the situation progressed. “Learning Organizations” own up to their mistakes, implement corrective actions, and move on to bigger and better things.

    I realize that admitting error is anathema to someone as vain as Mr Ballard, but lots of better men and women do it all the time.

  16. ditchu says:

    The issue is this, if the missionary thinks he is at risk then it is up to them to safeguard themselves. If it is worth more to them to go home than to continue their mission they would find a way to go home. All I am saying is that if you really try your best to get out of the misson field you will find a way. I think most would beleive they are doing something more important than their own life. That’s All.


  17. runtu says:

    So again, why bother doing anything, even the misguided stuff the church did, to protect the missionaries?

    The idea that the church has no obligation to safeguard the missionaries is absurd. And your suggestion that the missionaries died because THEY didn’t take the responsibility for themselves is sick and callous.

  18. ditchu says:

    I did not suggest that because they did not take upon themselves the respocsibility for themselves is why they died. They died because some hateful indivisual killed them. Some group used horrific means to shove their politics, and it was this that killed these young men. My suggestion is either they took responsibility for their own safty and thus it is not the church’s responsibility at that point, or they gave it over to the church and they made the choice to relinquished their will to the church leaders and trust in God to protect them. Many would blame God, for after all they died because God allowed them to die. Is it wrong? No. Death is not a bad thing as many Americans seem to think. It’s natural and an intergral part of Living. What is sad about this is not that these men died, but that they became victums of terrorism. With that we became victums of terror by changing policy and the way we deal with these threats.

    Is is more sick to hold to policies that end up getting some people killed, or reacting in a way that not only gives over our rights to terror but also leads to more dying due to the spread of terror, because it has worked for these groups in the past? The result is that terrorists see how effective these tactics are and they employ them more often and in greater threatning ways.


  19. runtu says:

    So, just so I’m getting this straight: the church has no responsibility for the safety of its missionaries. The missionaries have that responsibility, so if they don’t feel safe, they should lie and say they committed a major sin so they’ll get sent home. But it doesn’t matter anyway, because death isn’t a big deal.

    You really don’t see how twisted this is?

  20. capt jack says:

    Ditchu is become more incoherent the longer he posts.

    Ditchu–once again, so we can tell whether we’re all talking about a shared experience, would you tell us if you went on a mission?

    I ask that because I’d feel more charitable towards you if it turns out you didn’t serve one. It would explain a lot of what you’ve written and some of your attitudes.

    One thing I think needs clarification is that somehow taking proactive steps to minimize terrorist threats is somehow ‘caving’ to their demands and giving them the victory they seek.

    That simply isn’t the case; the US military has entire manuals, doctrines, and training courses developed for what is known as ‘force protection’.

    While I was on active duty, I went through two separate week-long anti-terrorism courses that stressed precisely those techniques that these LDS missionaries could’ve used to protect themselves. Nobody with a brain would consider force protection measures as a surrender to terrorists.

  21. ditchu says:

    Are we talking about protection or retreat?
    There is nothing wrong with proactive protection, but how do you protect against willful endangerment? which is your guy’s beef with the LDS Leadership on this issue.

  22. runtu says:

    You seriously can’t see how you can protect people from willful endangerment? Take a look at David Knowlton’s common-sense approach, which outlines simple and effective ways to protect the missionaries in the long run. Of course, his reasonable article got him fired from BYU.

  23. capt jack says:

    “There is nothing wrong with proactive protection, but how do you protect against willful endangerment? which is your guy’s beef with the LDS Leadership on this issue.”

    1. Did you or did you not serve a mission, Ditchu?

    2. If there is nothing wrong with “proactive protection”, why didn’t the mission president institute any?

    3. There are all sorts of ways to “protect against willful endangerment”, see my earlier comments about what the US military has instituted.

  24. ditchu says:


    1. The answer on serving a mission cannot be accuratlly responded to in less than several paragraphs, due to the defining of a mission. In short you are asking did I go to another place and serve as a full time LDS missionary? As of yet I did not, for I was married and working when I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-Day saints. However I did serve as a missionary in my local ward, also there is a slogan: Every member a missionary, so the answer is yes and no. Do I understand the strange situations a missionary can find themselves in? Yes, and I am using logic to complie what I do not have as personal experience for my responces.

    2. Because they did not have the extensive training that you have, perhappes.

    3. It is my understanding that the military does not engauage in willful endangerment… except for those poor fellows that shoot themselves in the foot.


  25. capt jack says:


    So you didn’t serve a full-time mission. I’m not criticizing you for that, only saying that if you didn’t you really can’t understand some of the dynamics that go into it. For instance, suggesting that someone confess to an imaginary immoral act in order to escape.

    I had extensive training, but the training doesn’t have to be very extensive to be effective.

    Your understanding about the military is incorrect. Hundreds of military men and women serve in US embassies around the world; they don’t carry weapons, as a matter of course, but they have been and are targets of terrorist actions.

  26. ditchu says:

    Are you suggesting we issue Missionaries Body armor, like Dragon skin, a side arm and high-power rifles? Do we extend their MTC training for 6 months to a year so they too can BT and AT?

    It would be interesting to have to tell your missionary son, “Ok, when it gets rough, keep your scriptures close, your eyes open and your head down. Oh and make sure your nametag is on the outside of your Kevlar.”


  27. capt jack says:

    No, I’m not suggesting that.

  28. sflorman says:

    It’s very, very hard to explain in simple words how individuals in the Church make decisions, based on their own instincts, what they know of external events, and what they feel from the Spirit. There is never a “one answer fits all” explanation. I know that Sister Skie (my wife, now Lynn Florman) didn’t feel as if she was in any particular personal danger despite the uproar in that area. She was careful, but not paranoid. For some reason, she wasn’t harmed but the elders, shortly after Lynn came home, were.

    President Wright has since left his family and left the Church to live with his boyfriend. But who can say what his state of mind, and state of inspiration, was at the time? Sometimes outsiders tend to think that “inspiration” should mean an angel appearing to a mission president and telling him to pull the elders out, but it (almost) never works that way.

    Ultimately, we still all make our own choices, and sometimes we regret them.

  29. runtu says:


    I appreciate that. I am quite sure that those events have haunted President Wright for many years, and I feel bad for him.

    I was as careful as I knew how to be, but I think you would agree that none of us realized the potential danger we were in.

  30. ditchu says:

    It is true that “none of us realized the potential danger we” are in. Be it in Bolivia, on a mission elsewhere, or just in our daily lives. We are in more danger in our cars than we usually realize and we are in great danger doing many of our daily seemingly normal activities. But is a Terror Hot Zone I do think there is a higher potential of harm and thus we can look back and see the threat people were under, putting them in greater danger.

  31. steve says:

    you forgot the east side of Bolivia, the chapel in Hamacas was also bombed, I was there, heard the explosion, and took photos of the damage the same day.

  32. KELLI says:

    It was a devastatingly hard day when we realized that the missionaries assassinated in La Paz were ours. I was serving in the footsteps of Elder Wilson who had been adored by the members there. Elder Wilson had come in with my first greenie. I remember helping them all cross the street for the first time in the crazy La Paz traffic!

    To ditchu I say, thank you for your interest in protecting the missionaries, and, dude, easy on the criticism. Gees. You seem to have a good head on your shoulders and would use the facts to improve future handling of situations like this. It has been a long time since I have searched for more information on what happened way back then. I never realized any real threat although I knew about the bombing at the chapel. Missionaries aren’t usually tuned into the “news” so we would have absolutely been relying on our leaders to keep that political pulse. It may seem naive but I am quite certain that much has been learned in hindsight from our experience.

    One thing I know for sure from my experience of serving with Pres Wright pre the tragedy is that he was hardly capable of purposely leaving anyone in “known” harm’s way. He had a sensitive and kind spirit. There is no doubt that he and his wife worried about all of us each and every day. He was a good man and he loved us and the Lord. My take would be that it is likely that he had become accustomed to a certain level of unrest. Even now I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion of thinking that an assassination would follow the bombing of an empty building.

    Up until the afternoon of the murders I had felt completely safe in every city at all times of the night and day.

    As for the statement earlier by someone that all the gringos were pulled leaving only the South American missionaries that is untrue. Only missionaries with less than 3 months to serve were pulled. The rest of the North Americans stayed to finish out their time. I wanted to stay as well.

    So, back to the judging thing, as one who has struggled from allowing the seeds of apostasy to be gathered in her life and the damage they can do to one’s faith and joy please be careful with your criticism. I am not suggesting you close your eyes to wisdom or blindly follow someone into a burning building. I hear tones of real darkness here. I really do. Be kind to each other. Even if you don’t at all agree. We are on the same side and the fact is blaming isn’t a very powerful tool for bringing about meaningful change.

    Aside from the parents of the elders I promise you that no one was more devastated than Pres. Wright. Maybe no one has paid a more tragic price. I am sure he blames himself to this day and it WAS NOT his fault. So, off your high horses. Show a little love.

    • Greg W. Anderson says:

      Kelli (and any others who care to reply):

      I am currently researching the experiences of those affected by the murders of Elder Ball and Elder Wilson in 1989. I have spoken with Elder Wilson’s parents (including his mother before she died), Elder Ball’s parents and Elder Eastland’s parents. I have recorded an extensive interview with one of the eyewitnesses to these murders and have been in contact with another. I would like to speak with you too. I was a missionary myself in Bolivia under President Hammond.

      The Balls, Wilsons and Eastlands are wonderful people. The Balls took the opportunity to tell their story to others, many years ago. Nobody knows the Wilsons’ story, it seems. But they spoke to me.


  33. Ryan Reeder says:

    I’m Ryan Reeder; I wrote the paper you cited in your blog entry while I was a student at BYU in April 2001. Greg Anderson, who just commented, and whom I met shortly afterward, alerted me to this discussion.

    Part of the reason I became interested in this topic was because of the influence it had on my mission in Cochabamba and Santa Cruz, Bolivia from early 1995 to early 1997. Early in my mission, all of the American missionaries were greenies; the Bolivians and other South Americans in the area had been running things for the entire duration of their missions. Thus, as Americans began being called to leadership positions, and quickly even being called to a majority of those positions, some of us sensed some resentment toward us from some of these older natives, a sentiment which we did not feel from those Latin missionaries who had been arriving contemporaneously with the North American missionaries.

    One thing I observed in researching this topic was that in Utah, the assassinations of Elders Ball and Wilson (twenty years ago yesterday, by the way) was covered pretty heavily in the media. I compiled a number of the articles and sources I used in writing this paper here: There were a number of Church News, Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune articles. Then the August 22, 1990 murders of Manuel Antonio Hidalgo and Cristian Andreani Ugarte in Peru were covered in maybe two or three articles and the March 6, 1991 murder of Oscar Zapata was barely mentioned.

    However, the response seemed to be quite different. As has been mentioned, following the Ball and Wilson assassinations, most North American missionaries stayed in Bolivia. A few were reassigned, a state department official (an LDS church member) came to instruct them on some points of safety precautions, and American missionaries were assigned to be with native companions, for the most part. But drastic action didn’t seem to occur until after the Peruvian murders. While I’ve heard rumors about President Wright’s sexuality, I don’t know how big of a factor that was in the decision to pull North American missionaries for a time. I don’t believe any of that was known at the time; Elder Ballard told a story in his next General Conference address in October about a dream which President Wright had related to him regarding the work which Elders Ball and Wilson were continuing to do on the other side of the veil.

    At any rate, following the Peruvian murders, North American missionaries were pulled from both countries for about three or four years. These assassinations, by the way, as I discovered in my research, were not the result of anti-Mormon sentiment in the region per se, as was the motivation in the Joseph Standing murder in Georgia in 1879 and the Cane Creek massacre in Tennessee in 1884. As David Knowlton pointed out in a Sunstone article, the problem partly stemmed from a different mindset and culture in Bolivia about the roles of church and state. In the US, the two are seen as separate; the LDS Church is not the United States of America any more than the US is McDonald’s or Disneyland. Its headquarters are based in the country, but that’s all.

    Because of the long Spanish influence in Bolivia, a different conception of the roles of church and state have grown up in Bolivia. There, religion is perceived as an arm of the state. Consequently, these American missionaries were seen not just as representatives of the LDS Church, but also as representatives of the United States of America. This idea extended to include those indigenous missionaries who wore the badge and had adopted the name of the Church. For cultural–and terrorist–reasons, the distinction was erased.

    Additionally, the politics of the time, particularly the war on drugs during the Reagan and especially the elder Bush years, led to quite a lot of unrest and anti-American sentiment among certain segments of society. The coca plant, from which cocaine is derived, is native to the area, is widespread, and has many traditional uses. Coca farming also provides an income for a number of impoverished Bolivians. Surely the rank-and-file Bolivians didn’t have strong enough feelings to warrant violence and terrorist acts, and most missionaries were never in any danger. However, it doesn’t take many people to create enormous tragedy in the lives of a few people and gain attention.

    I’m not really cognizant of how the decision was made to send North Americans back into the region, or how quickly it was done or what the process was like in the La Paz and Peruvian missions. I do know what it was like in the Cochabamba mission. The first American missionaries called to that mission entered the MTC in July 1994 and Bolivia in September 1994. Between September 1994 and September 1995, a total of 55 Americans arrived, including two sisters with the third group. I was in the seventh. Then fourteen sisters, most of whom had welfare assignments, arrived between October 1995 and March 1996. During these six months, only four American elders arrived, one of whom actually came from the Guatemala MTC (along with the only native Central American missionary I knew). As sisters’ term of service was six months less than that of the elders, this could be conceived of as the first generation of returning American missionaries to the region.

    During the next several months, there were only a trickle of new North American missionaries. A total of five arrived over the next five months. Perhaps interesting to some, despite Capt Jack’s earlier assertion that “I’d believe you that this was the church’s philosophy if they’d subsequently sent grandchildren of General Authorities to the ‘hot spots’ in Peru and Bolivia. Trouble is they didn’t; in fact, they pulled out all the North American missionaries and left the Latin Americans in place, even though more of them had been murdered than had North Americans,” at this time, in mid-1996, two of those five missionaries were, in fact, sons of General Authorities. Then, with the last groups that I saw arrive beginning in September 1996, new groups of missionaries arrived with what I imagine are fairly standard proportions of elders and sisters.

    I don’t know all the details of the current political situation, but I understand that about a year or so ago (probably about the time this blog entry was originally written), North American missionaries were again pulled out of Bolivia. This, as I understand, was due to precautions surrounding some anti-American blips on the radar screen with the leftist Hugo Chavez (Venezuela)-aligning administration of Evo Morales. Recently, the Church News reported that Sisters Beck and Lant, general presidents of the Relief Society and Primary, respectively, visited Bolivia and Peru, meeting with the first ladies of the countries while there ( A personal conversation I had three days ago with an individual whose brother was affected by this more recent pullout, indicated that after having spent a year in Peru, he was now preparing to return to Bolivia. I would surmise that these actions took place with a clear remembrance of and in an attempt to avoid the situations which led to the tragic events of 1989-1991.

    Just another quick point or two; Elder Eastland’s name has been brought up on this and/or an earlier post–he was actually serving as an AP (Assistant to the President) at the time of his death (an AP is one of only two missionaries given leadership assignments over all of the missionaries in the entire mission), (which was why he was in a car with the President’s son, incidentally). The causes of his death, while tragic, had nothing to do with the deaths of Elders Ball and Wilson. It was just an accident. The effects it had, occurring shortly after the assassinations, probably did have some significant emotional and psychological impact on many of the missionaries, and possibly particularly the mental state of President Wright.

    Could these murders have been prevented? Was it a mistake? My personal feeling is that if the situation were to repeat itself, in an environment where LDS meetinghouses were being bombed and other potential threats against the safety of the missionaries, with anti-American rhetoric in an area where the Church is perceived as representing the US, the Church would quickly remove North American missionaries from the area. But I don’t blame anyone for what happened then (other than the FALZW and other terrorist perpetrators, of course). I believe that those involved acted according to the best of their knowledge with the information they then had available. When Mormon handcart pioneers decided to leave late in the season of 1856, and were caught unprepared in the snows of Wyoming, they and their rescuers experienced terrible hardships and many died as a result of exposure, including some of my ancestors. But, as Francis Webster is quoted as saying, “Cold historic facts mean nothing here for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the Handcart Company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that Company and my wife was in it and Sister Nellie Unthank whom you have cited was there too. We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that Company utter a word of criticism? Not one of that Company ever apostatized or left the church because every one of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with him in our extremities.”

    I think the same could be said about the 1989-91 murders. Were mistakes made? Maybe. However, the Lord works in many ways to the salvation of his children. He has a plan, He knows what’s going on, and He is in control. I suspect that His purposes have, are, and will accomplish significantly more than a handful of lukewarm conversions. As President Hinckley indicated at Elder Wilson’s funeral, their names “will be engraved forever in the history of this church as those who lived as faithful servants of God and died as martyrs to his eternal work.”

  34. […] of Elders Ball and Wilson (and Hidalgo and Ugarte and Zapata) A reader made this comment on an earlier post, and I thought it was important enough to post it in its entirety here. Thank you, Ryan, for a […]

  35. E Gonzalez says:

    Even though many years ago this was written and discussed it is a very interesting discussion and even to some extent very entertaining because I must say, it is all conjecture, assumptions and deductive reasoning… But yet flawed and highly inaccurate when you conclude that Steven Wright was either to blame or responsible for anything.
    Why do I make this claim?
    I was there! ELDER BALL was my trainer and I knew both very well.
    You all miss the mark in one point, and that is about what we thought of the political unrest and what Ball and Wilson both felt.
    I won’t waste time or bother but to say, none of us North American missionaries wanted to leave at all, no matter the risk our possible loss of life.
    I am a Hispanic American and one of over 20 serving at the same time. We blended in and when the orders came PRIOR to their deaths to send missionaries out to other missions. My buddies to this day, and who were of light skin and light colored hair, purchased hair dye and colored their hair black and did so many things to prevent being sent away from Bolivia.
    We loved the people, we loved our mission and lovingly called it in jest the “pine box mission”.
    We knew the risk, and understood the unrest and yet we insisted in staying and not one single missionary wanted to leave and outright refused to even discuss it.
    So please know that all your conjecture is highly inaccurate and moot.
    Another point is that these deaths, while tragic and sad, I can assure you to this very day, both those wonderful Elders would not have changed their minds or done anything different, THEY gladly laid their lives to seal their love and testimony for the gospel and the Bolivian people. I tell you this without a single doubt or question as I knew them both very well because were served in the same district at the time of the assassination.
    They were and are still my friends.

    The aftermath of their murders, it will surprise you, opened the hearts and homes of the people of Bolivia. They were ashamed and condemned the act by Sendero Iluminoso. (The shining path) for their cowardly act.
    We baptized maybe 1-5 per month, per companionship, with the usual shot doors in our faces etc
    Post their deaths and the weeks after total lockdown in our rooms for 12 days, we couldn’t walk down any neighborhood street without the people coming out of their house to share their condolences for our loss. They gave us water, fruit drinks, and even offered to feed us and invited us in to learn about these boys who were killed.
    Our baptism per companionship quadrupled in the entire mission.
    The people were softened in their hearts and any political unrest or negative opinions of the American Government Church, as they called it, seemed to focus on who we were and how we truly were just simply a religion. Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses reduced their love for approaching us to bible bash us.
    So what is the conclusion? I’ll leave it to you to conclude.
    I baptized more people in those last 6 months by twice as many, than I did my first 16 months.
    The church had an unprecedented growth and continued for years after.

    I genuinely promise you that I would have happily accepted that fate in their place. I never walked scared, or worried in those streets.
    We were doing the Lord’s work and we ALL in unison would openly discuss the fact, “what better time to die or lose your life than at the peak of our spiritual lives and doing what we loved” remember we chose to do what Ball and Wilson were doing, serving the Lord at whatever cost. We asked to serve missions.
    This isn’t me romanticizing the past. Those were words that were spoken by Elder Ball, who was our Zone Leader at the time and who only 2 weeks later was killed.
    They both were amazing boys and the Elders serving there, like me, were a special chosen few to be there at that time. Maybe we were a little crazy and blindly faithful… But trust me Not one single Elder afterwards took the offer by President Wright to go home and Return with Honor fully, if we had 3 months or less. This came from Salt Lake City mission home.

    Not one single Elder even considered it. So for those reading this now, more recently… Add this to your intellectual conclusions and draw what you will from it. I can write almost a whole book about what happened exactly and who were these missionaries. But I felt like only saying this.

    Want to try and disprove my claims? Go to FB and find our group there of La Paz Bolivia mission. Most of us are on there and talk and see each other as friends to this very day still.
    Final comment… President Steven R. Wright was in fact molesting boys and was later discovered he had obvious homosexual tendencies. He has since fallen away from the church and was not interested in returning last I learned and did Divorce.

    • runtu says:

      Why would I want to disprove what you’ve written? Weird.

      • Gladis Azero says:

        E. Gonzales and Runtu, I was able to read just the last 2 entries as I came across this page when I was trying to find what was said here in Utah about this murder that took place at my house in La Paz Bolivia so many, many years ago. I wanted to say that no one saw this coming and I don’t think the President should have move the missionaries, or that he should have been blamed for not taking care of the missionaries because like I said before no one saw this coming ……..yes there were bombs detonated in the same area, we never thought someone could do what they did to Elder Ball and Elder Wilson. I will always remember them because they were special not only to us the homeowners but to the whole Villa Victoria ward. The story of the “other 2 missionaries” who were living with them, the ones who were just about 15 min earlier and safe inside the same apartment is also amazing.
        Just wanted to say that.
        No one is to blame except the crazy people who did the actual killing.


  36. zuort says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading this thread. This strikes me as a hindsight matter. With hindsight, Wright should’ve/would’ve taken steps to transfer out any vulnerable missionaries. But because no missionaries had been killed before in that area or Bolivia by terrorists, the risk was seen at the time as extremely, perhaps even vanishingly, low. If some missionaries/church members had been targeted/killed in the recent past, and I am missing some vital information, I apologize, and it changes the equation. Had missionaries been killed in similar circumstances within the previous 20 years, some kind of action would’ve been taken, I think. Within the previous 50 years, maybe. Within the previous 100 years, probably not. It’s a human calculation that people/society make all the time. Like the 100-year flood calculation. As it turns out, we need to make 500-year flood and drought calculations. That’s something good to bear in mind.

    I was in Ciudad Satelite when Bons and Drennan died. Of course we were all more careful after that. I can’t remember if the dangerous “garrafas” were banned subsequently, but I do remember using electric heaters going forward. When I got to Bolivia in September 1981, I remember thinking that it was strange to heat our tiny room — with dead, bloody flies smashed on the walls — with a garrafa and flame. Still, I was grateful for it — it was welcome in cold Oruro at 3,700m. The significant danger that it posed didn’t register till two died from it three months later.

    Interestingly enough, Wright was my branch president in the MTC. Maestas was transferred out because of diabetic problems in December just before the missionaries died. Would he have done differently from Wright with respect to Ball and Wilson? I doubt it. He made some questionable calls during his five months in Bolivia. So I have reason to think he also would have lacked the discernment necessary to avoid a tragedy. Could promptings have been given to various people with stewardship/interest in the matter? Sure. We won’t know, I suppose, unless someone comes forward and says so. Is it possible none were/was given? Yes. God in his discretion as overseer/delegater makes that call all the time. That’s the way the world was/is set up, and he knows better than anyone about all that. It’s an inscrutable thing. Who can scrute or plumb the depths of the matter?

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