Brian Trotter first heard the news through a text Nov. 12.
“I’m happy that your son is OK,” read the message sent by a friend.
Alarmed, Trotter asked his friend what she meant. That’s when she sent him a news release from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Earlier that day, two gunmen had invaded a routine gathering of 70 missionaries in the Mexico Torreón Mission, where Trotter’s son Elijah serves.
The robbers stole wallets, cellphones and computer tablets, and beat several of the missionaries, including the mission president and his wife.
Police were immediately called after the gunmen fled, according to the church’s news release, and no one needed additional medical care.
Trotter, who lives in Gilbert, Ariz., called church headquarters, through which he learned that local Latter-day Saint leaders were still working their way through all the missionaries who needed to call home.
The father finally heard from Elijah the next morning.
He was safe, Elijah told his dad, and though his leaders had given him the chance to call the previous day, he had waited because he thought his parents hadn’t heard the news yet and that they would have more time to talk in the morning.
Trotter said Elijah was a bit more somber than usual but, for the most part, seemed fine.
Elijah thought about his family during the attack and about how grateful he is to be serving a mission, Trotter said. He also reflected on if he’d done his best each day as a missionary.
“So did you [do your best]?” Trotter asked.
“Yeah, Dad,” Elijah said, getting a little emotional. “I believe I have done my very best my entire mission.”
Trotter said they didn’t speak long — Elijah had a baptism to prepare for. “I need to fill the font, and I need to get back to work,” he told his father. “We can’t let things like this stop the work from progressing.”
Trotter said he’s proud of his son and deeply grateful to local leaders — particularly mission President Alfredo Zanudo and his wife, Guadalupe, who took the brunt of the beatings while trying to protect their young charges — and to local Latter-day Saints who have helped the missionaries replace their stolen items.
He also said he’s “not frustrated at all” with how the church dealt with the frightening experience.
“The tendency is, [with] not knowing all the details, to just assume,” Trotter said. “Statistically, these young women [and] young men are way safer on their missions than they are at home.”
In 2013, The Salt Lake Tribune reported that three to six missionaries die on average each year. That is well below death rates for those same age groups across U.S. and world populations — as tracked by the World Health Organization and several prominent academic journals. Like-aged rates of death for nonmissionaries are six to 20 times higher, depending on the measures used.
The Utah-based faith unveiled a 12-part video series in 2019 that teaches missionaries various measures on how to remain safe. The series covers crimes against missionaries, pedestrian and bicycle safety, safe driving and much more.
Not all parents, however, are happy with how the Mexico aftermath was handled.
Kathryn Dainard Crouse, whose missionary son was present at the attack, said there has been little communication from church leaders. She also worries about inadequate safety precautions.
For instance, Crouse said, the missionaries remain in the area — and were not removed from it — as stated in the church’s news release.
Her son told her they’re back to proselytizing, she said, and that there have been no rule changes or added security measures.
“In fact, my son says he believes he saw the same assailants beating someone up on the street as they rode by in a bus,” Crouse said. “Of course, my son will want to continue regardless, but it definitely does not give comfort to us as parents.”
Church spokesman Sam Penrod said Wednesday that the church has no further information to offer at this time.
According to the church’s initial release, a counselor was traveling from Mexico City to assist with emotional needs and a church security officer is in Torreón to evaluate the conditions.