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Murder Doesn't Hinder Business for Book of Mormon Tours

Murder Doesn't Hinder Business for Book of Mormon Tours

Posted - Mar. 8, 2004 at 3:32 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Only one group of Mormon travelers has canceled a tour to Guatemala after an Ogden man on a spiritual trip was murdered two months ago.

Instead, business remains brisk for the Orem-based Book of Mormon Tours, said owner Dr. Joseph Allen.

"Seven others went out as planned," Allen said. "The incident has not been a major factor with the exception of people will ask."

The only group that canceled did so shortly after Brett Richards, a 52-year-old Ogden architect, was shot in the chest and died en route to a hospital Jan. 7. It happened after five men boarded the tourist bus he was on and opened fire with automatic weapons.

The bus driver also was injured. Twelve other tourists were led into the forest, forced to lie down and robbed.

The group that canceled afterward included about 40 people from Alpine. But Allen said another group of 12 took their place, and left Saturday.

"They got down there all right," Allen said Monday. Another group, closer to the tour's normal size of 25 to 30 people, is planning to leave March 18.

Richards was traveling with several other members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from Quetzaltenango to the Mexican border.

Many LDS members believe archaeological ruins in Central America were built by people described in the Book of Mormon, which church founder Joseph Smith claimed to have translated from a set of golden plates.

Travel agencies arrange tours to visit these sites, focusing on how they might fit in with the scripture.

"We've been taking tours for 33 years," Allen said. "Nothing like that has ever happened."

Allen, who was kicked in the face during the January assault, said nearly 5,000 cars travel that highway daily, and it could have been any other one singled out by the attackers. He called the incident a lottery the group happened to lose.

"It just happened to be us," he said.

The attack took place in Colomba, 120 miles west of Guatemala City. It was the first reported murder of a U.S. citizen in Guatemala since July 2002.

Worried that the attack would hurt tourism, Guatemalan officials are increasing the military presence along the highway, a move championed by Allen.

"There's not a whole lot more we can do, except if we get robbed, tell people not to do anything, which we are doing," Allen said.

Guatemalan police have arrested two people in the bus robbery and slaying. Police are seeking three others.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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