Russel M Nelson and his second wife, Wendy, were involved in an altercation in Mozambique, Africa while visiting the mission home in 2009. The mission home is alarmingly robbed by assailants. When first reported there is nothing involving criminals targeting church leaders. The only injuries mentioned in the reports were the Mission President’s wife having a broken arm and others having minor cuts and bruises. The couple continued their tour of the mission and held their scheduled meetings and even attended a stake conference meeting.
Years later, the story is embellished and now involves attempted murder, a gun that miraculously wouldn’t fire on President Nelson, attempted kidnapping of Sister Nelson, as well as angelic intervention!
The Initial Story
News reports at the time reported on the incident as one would expect. The story comes out and over the next few days a couple more details are learned and shared as part of the story. These stories are reported in real news but also in the church-owned news. Here are a few news stories with the main details bolded.
Armed assailants attacked and robbed a Latter-day Saint Apostle, his wife and two other couples in the African nation of Mozambique. Elder Russell M. Nelson and his wife, Wendy, were on a Church assignment when the incident happened.
According to Church spokesman Scott Trotter, the wife of the mission president, Blair Packard, suffered a broken arm. She and others also have cuts and bruises.
An official Church Statement says: “On Friday evening they were having dinner together in the mission president’s home when armed assailants entered the home and robbed them. We don’t have complete information yet, but we understand that Sister Packard’s arm was broken. In addition, she and others suffered some superficial injuries, mainly cuts and bruises. Elder and Sister Nelson will continue their assignment over the weekend as planned.“KSL: LDS Church Apostle, his wife and 2 other couples attacked in Mozambique, May 30, 2009
According to a statement from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spokesman Scott Trotter, armed assailants entered the home and robbed them. Packard’s wife’s arm was broken and others suffered some superficial injuries such as cuts and bruises.
During the attack, the assailants reportedly took the mission president’s Rolex watch and a cell phone, and Nelson was reportedly kicked in the face. The day after the attack, the Nelsons reportedly attended a stake conference meeting in the area as they had planned.
Trotter said the church doesn’t have complete information yet and that local authorities are looking into the incident. But he said the Nelsons will continue their assignment over the weekend as planned.Daily Herald, Sunday, May 31, 2009. LDS leaders attacked in Africa
As Latter-day Saint Apostle Elder Russell M. Nelson is shaking off a weekend attack and robbery by armed gunmen in Mozambique, he’s telling missionaries “this type of thing happens all over the world.”
During the attack, the mission president’s wife suffered a broken arm; others have cuts and bruises. KSL has now learned details of the incident from an e-mail that the mission president sent to the families of missionaries serving in the area.
President Blair and Sister Cindy Packard are assuring family and friends of about 70 missionaries that they feel what happened in the mission home in Maputo, Mozambique was “an isolated armed robbery” and that they will be “reviewing all security and safety procedures”
Elder Russell M. Nelson and his wife, Wendy, were on Church assignment in that African nation, having dinner with the area president, his wife and the Packards the incident happened.
In a statement, the Packards said, “Four armed gunmen overpowered our one guard … We were threatened verbally and physically. Cindy was roughed up but finally did get away to warn other guards and neighbors who came to our assistance. She suffered a fracture in her left elbow … other bruises and skinned knees. Elder Nelson was accosted as well but is fine with minimal injury.”
The Packards also wrote that they feel, “Elder and Sister Nelson were not specifically targeted or that this was any act against the Church. Some have speculated that our guards were involved. They were not.”
After the incident, Elder and Sister Nelson held meetings with all of the missionaries. The Packards describe them as wonderful, spiritual experiences.KSL: Mission president and wife describe weekend attack and robbery, June 1st, 2009.
As the details of the story come out they show a few key points. Here are the consistent details gathered from each report:
- Four armed assailants enter the home by overcoming a single guard and threaten those present.
- Elder Russell M Nelson and his wife Wendy.
- Mission President Blair J Packard (Mozambique Maputo Mission) and his wife Cindy.
- William W. Parmley of the church’s Africa Southeast Area Presidency and his wife.
- The Mission President’s wife, Cindy Packer suffered a broken arm (fractured elbow).
- The others suffered some superficial injuries such as cuts and bruises.
- Elder and Sister Nelson were not specifically targeted.
- Though one report does mention Nelson reportedly received a kick to the face.
- The assailants stole the Mission President’s Rolex watch and cell phone.
- The Nelsons will continue their assignment over the weekend as planned.
The Story Grows
Wendy Nelson shared her own version of the story at Time Out for Women later in the same year. Her story differs in that she specifically notes that these armed robbers’ only intention was to harm her husband and take her hostage. Other than this fairly minor dramatic embellishment, the story seems to remain the same. She does extensively credit Cindy Packard, the mission president’s wife, as a hero. She details how she was able to alert everyone and even though she received a broken arm, her alert summoned help bringing the situation to a close. Sister Nelson then elaborates on the “attempted robbery and abduction” and uses it as a teaching moment comparing these assailants to “the adversary” who “saunters” into our homes. This was inspiring enough that it made its way into an article in LDS Living:
The wife of Elder Russell M. Nelson said she felt a comforting peace that helped her remain calm during an attack by armed robbers last spring.
Sister Wendy Watson Nelson described the experience Friday during a speech to 3,300 women at the Time Out for Women event in Salt Lake City. The robbery occurred in May at an LDS mission home in Mozambique.
“The four armed robbers had one intention,” Sister Nelson said, “to (harm) my husband and to take me hostage.”
Sister Nelson said she and her husband, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, were on a church assignment in the African country. She described finishing taco salads with Mozambique Maputo Mission President Blair Packard and his wife and two other couples when a man suddenly walked into the mission home.
“I expected the president to greet him like a friend, but he stood by the door, and instead, the mission president’s wife — who I call a hero — said, ‘This is a robbery!'”
After she informed her guests of the situation, Cindy Packard, the mission president’s wife, ran outside to shout, “Robber! Robber!” in Portuguese. She was the only one in the group who could speak the language well, Sister Nelson said, and her efforts summoned help and “brought the hideous situation to a close.”
Cindy Packard, however, suffered a broken arm during the attack. Others in the group suffered some superficial injuries, mainly cuts and bruises.
Sister Nelson said the attempted robbery and abduction was a sobering experience that confirms that “life is a spook alley,” but she said she takes comfort in the scripture that advises the righteous to “fear not what man can do.”
Her account of the attack helped illustrate several points. She said the first of the four armed men didn’t barge into the home, but casually entered almost unnoticed, exactly like the adversary does.
Unbeknownst to those inside eating dinner, the intruders overcame the unarmed guard outside the mission home, she said. They then watched Elder Nelson and the others through the windows of the mission home, waiting for the right moment to attack.
“The adversary knows your whereabouts,” Sister Nelson said. “The robbers didn’t barge in, they just sauntered right on in exactly like the adversary. It struck me as well that we, therefore, as women need to be hypervigilant about what’s coming into our home, on the Internet, the computer and the TV.”Apostle’s wife felt comfort despite attack, Nov 15, 2009.
This is the first time the assailants are referenced as abductors. Understandably, Sister Nelson was terrified in the event, and we can likely excuse the embellishment as the event was traumatic. She felt her life was in danger facing armed assailants as they took a watch and cell phone.
The Tale Gets Even Taller
President Nelson furthers the embellishment when he published a book in 2015 called Accomplishing the Impossible: What God Does, What We Can Do with Deseret Book. This book is mainly regurgitated talks he’s given at conferences, but it’s a nice way to monetize and earn some extra on the side of his General Authority living expense stipends. He retells this same story in his book though, and has some more claims to share.
In this retelling, we learn that the assailants announce their purpose when coming in: they are there to kidnap Wendy and kill then Elder Nelson. This aligns with the addition Wendy shared at Time Out For Women that the assailant’s purpose was to do them harm. But this does not at all match what the Mission President who was present or the official reports at the time which specifically state the Nelsons were not targeted. Nelson states in his book that they were “maliciously molested” but then the assailants became “totally foiled”. He states for the first time that a gun to his head fails to fire in the incident. He continues by saying they then “disappeared as quickly as they had appeared”. He credits angels for protecting them. His story doesn’t mention the others present or the injuries they received. Sorry Sister Packer, with Sister Nelson you were hailed as a hero, but from President Nelson, your heroism and broken arm are replaced with a gun to his head in his version of the story.
My wife Wendy and I are the beneficiaries of that promise. On one occasion, we were attacked by armed men with malicious intent. They announced their purpose: to kidnap her, and to kill me. After they maliciously molested us in those evil objectives, they became totally foiled. A gun to my head failed to fire. And my wife was suddenly released from their hideous grasp. Then they disappeared as quickly as they had appeared. We were mercifully rescued from potential disaster. We know we were protected by angels round about us. Yes, the Lord’s precious promise had been invoked in our behalf.LDSLiving, April 02, 2018: When Angels Saved President Russell M. Nelson’s Life (+What We Know About Heavenly Messengers): quoting from his book, Accomplishing the Impossible: What God Does, What We Can Do, President Russell M. Nelson shares a powerful personal experience with angels.
This embellishment feels oddly Mormon though, right? This is reminiscent of Joseph Smith’s storytelling regarding the first vision, or receiving the priesthood. With the first vision, a decade later he begins to share the story. As he tells the story some major details are added. We can reasonably expect that these major details would have been included in the first place had they been true. How could Joseph’s first accounts not include the point that he saw God the Father and His Son? At the time he believed them to be the same, so the idea that they both appeared to him would have been very remarkable. Similarly, these first reports of the robbery in Mozambique only one mentions any infraction with Russell Nelson, he is reportedly kicked in the head and the others only mention he may have received minor scratches or bruises. The hero of the story is Cindy Packard who alerts everyone with her shouting and she receives a broken arm. But later, when he retells the story, Nelson has a gun to his head and the trigger is pulled, but the gun does not fire. They are saved by angels though as the assailants leave as quickly as they arrive and conveniently there is no mention of the mission president or her wife.
Just like Joseph Smith’s first vision story, this tale grows considerably over time. We can see that dramatic storytelling and promoting faith are the purpose of these retellings rather than sharing an accurate account of what happened.
If you want more embellished stories from President Nelson, look up his plane crash incident, or stay tuned and we’ll write about it one day! In the meantime, consider joining the “I was a Mormon” movement and create a profile on wasmormon.org. Tell your own Mormon story in your words.