U.S. Missionary Hostage Killed in Philippine Rescue Attempt

Friday, June 7, 2002

Martin and Gracia Burnham Had Been Held for More Than a Year
by Deann Alford

AUSTIN, Texas, June 7 (Compass) -- Kidnapped American missionary Martin Burnham was killed today in a Philippine military raid to rescue him, his wife, Gracia, and a Filipina nurse, New Tribes Mission (NTM) has confirmed.

Gracia Burnham was shot in the leg during the rescue attempt and has been moved to a military hospital in the southern Philippines city of Zamboanga, said NTM spokesman Scott Ross. According to media reports, hostage nurse Eldiborah Yap, also known as Deborah, was also killed.

The raid's tragic outcome came as a shock to Ross, who learned of it at 4 a.m. when a reporter phoned his home.

"We always felt they would probably (survive the kidnapping)," Ross said. "We had no clue anything was happening. Yesterday we got a call from a couple of FBI agents saying that they didn't know what was going on (with the case). So I don't think they had a clue, either."

Ross said that the mission holds no bitterness about the tragedy. "God is in control," he said. "We don't understand or know why it worked out that way, but we have to believe that God is in control and was working through the situation."

In previous interviews with Compass, Ross had said NTM would agree to a rescue attempt under certain conditions. "We have never been opposed to a rescue," Ross said. "We always felt that a rescue should take place only with the right intelligence and only with the right team. And that's been a concern for us.

"But also a rescue was way down the list of things we would want. At some point when you know they're at death's door, because of malnutrition or something, you have to do something. But these are always difficult decisions to make."

Ross said that NTM has received little confirmed information and can't say whether the mission agrees with the rescue attempt.

"We don't even know what happened, really," he said. "Our guys are working like crazy trying to find out. The U.S. Embassy didn't even know. They're flying a team down there right away, so they didn't know even."

Concerning the Burnham family's reaction, Ross said, "They were shaken up but they've got mixed feelings. They're very happy that Gracia has been released or been able to get away."

The U.S. ambassador to the Philippines and Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo have phoned the family to express condolences, Ross said.

The mission said that no family or NTM staff is with Gracia Burnham yet. NTM is trying to reunite her with her sister, Cheryl Spicer, who is also a missionary in the Philippines.

Islamic Abu Sayyaf rebels linked to Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden kidnapped the couple and 18 others from Dos Palmas Resort on the Philippine island of Palawan on May 27, 2001.

Martin Burnham is survived by his wife, parents Paul and Oreta Burnham, and children Jeffrey, 15; Mindy, 12; and Zach, 11 of Wichita, Kansas.