Fifteen years ago, Donna and Roy Tuttle of Gilbert lived through one of those “parents’ worst nightmare” experiences. Their son, Travis, a graduate of Gilbert High School, was 20 and serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Russia when they got word that he and his companion, Andrew Propst, also 20, of Lebanon, Ore., had been kidnapped and were being held for ransom.
Their ordeal — of being beaten, threatened at gunpoint and held for four days — is now the subject of “The Saratov Approach,” an independent motion picture that recently topped the $1 million mark.
Written and directed by Garrett Batty, “The Saratov Approach” accurately captures the story, as well as the emotion of the experience, said Tuttle, now 35. Today, Tuttle is a resident of Queen Creek, where he lives with his wife, Brook, and four children.
“It’s 90 to 95 percent accurate. Very close to what actually happened,” he said.
He believes the film has been well received because “It’s something everyone can relate to at some level, no matter what your faith or denomination or background.”
He said every parent who sees a child go to a foreign country for work, sports or some kind of service opportunity is concerned for their safety and wellbeing.
“To see what every parent would anticipate as their worst nightmare and have itcome out okay, who doesn’t want to see a story like that? Everyone likes to see a good story.”
Tuttle is grateful that, in his case, it was a good story, with a positive resolution.
“The chances of people walking away from a traumatic experience like that are not good. Only a small percentage survive a kidnapping in the first place and, of those that do, only one percent are able to function normally in society,” he said.
The two missionaries were jumped, beaten with baseball bats on their heads and hands, then tied up, thrown in the back of a car and taken to another apartment, where they were kept blindfolded and guarded by an armed man.
“Everything happened so fast. I remember thinking, ‘I can’t believe this is happening,’” Tuttle said, adding that during the entire time they were held, “We had no idea what was going on outside and were concerned about what was happening to other missionaries, what was going on in the city and with our families.”
They knew their decisions could cost them their lives. They also knew that, while the Church would do everything possible to ensure their safety,it was not apt to pay a ransom as this could affect the greater picture of missionary work as a whole and put other missionaries in danger.
“It would have been a lot harder mentally if I was by myself,” Tuttle said. “We were so fortunate that we were together, that someone was there to lean on the entire time. We never gave up on each other. When I was down, Andy picked me up; when he was down, I did that for him.”
He said this lesson remains as the most important thing he learned from the kidnapping.
“It taught me that we should never give up on anybody, a child, spouse, family member, coworker — never give up on anyone, even on ourselves.”
He added, “There are so many reasons to give up in life, especially when we compare ourselves to what we see in magazines or on TV. But, that’s not the real measure of success. Success is what we do within the four walls of our own homes to make ourselves and our families better.” The two do wonder “why me” at times, but not in the way most would think.
“We recognize there are a lot of people better than we are, but we also know not everyone could have endured what we did,” Tuttle said. “We feel it was something that was in the making for us for a long time — in how we were raised and different experiences we had on our missions. We just feel really blessed.”
“The Saratov Approach” will be in theaters in Mesa through Thanksgiving. For more details, visit the film’s Facebook page at facebook.com/saratovapproach.