KINGSTON –– Randy Hentzel’s and Harold Nichols’ mission in Jamaica was to help the impoverished, building houses and providing medical care for those in need.
So why would anyone want to kill the two American missionaries on the island where they had lived for years?
“It’s something no one would have thought would have happened,” Jamaica Constabulary Force spokeswoman Dahlia Garrick said. “There was nothing to indicate anyone wanted to do them harm. They are highly respected people within the community.”
Now the police are scrambling for clues in the deaths that Prime Minister Andrew Holness says has the entire nation grieving.
Hentzel, 48, and Nichols, 53, had served in Jamaica for years with TEAMS for Medical Missions, a small, Pennsylvania-based Christian charity that tries to provide medical care and spiritual comfort in the Caribbean island nation.
Hentzel’s body was found Saturday in bushes north of Kingston, Jamaican authorities said. His motorcycle rested nearby.
The next day, searchers discovered Nichols’ body about 500 metres away from Hentzel’s remains, Garrick said.
“We don’t know what the cause of death,” she said Tuesday. “One of them, Harold [Nichols], had a wound to the head. Randy [Hentzel], when he was found, had blood coming from his mouth.”
Both bodies were found in a “heavily lush and green area”, with no homes nearby, Garrick said.
How they got there remains a mystery.
The missionaries set out on a motorcycle trip Saturday morning along the island’s northeastern shore to check on a site where they were building a home for a family, said Ray Shive, former director of TEAMS for Medical Missions.
It was the kind of work Nichols immersed himself in, his wife, Teri, told CNN affiliate WKBW-TV in Buffalo, New York.
“He spent all of his days building houses for people, taking people to the hospital, visiting the sick all the time,” she said.
Holness, the Prime Minister, met with relatives of Nichols and Hentzel, saying the nation shared in their grief.
“I know the entire Jamaica mourns with you, and I stand here on their behalf to express their deep sympathies, sadness,” he told the families.
“No words can give any comfort to the loss of a loved one, especially under such tragic circumstances . . . . But the strength that you have displayed and the true Christian spirit of forgiveness means the spirit here and the people of Jamaica want you to know what has happened here doesn’t represent and that we want to seek justice here because the crime is affecting everyone.”
Nichols’ wife said her husband’s death affects many Jamaicans.
“It’s a huge loss, not just to me, but [to] so many children and so many elderly people who count on him to visit and get them to hospitals, to get them medicine, to get them all those things that they’re not able to do and that’s what he did around the clock,” she said.
“He didn’t know ‘no’. He didn’t know the word ‘no’.”
Both Nichols and Hentzel had been doing missionary work in Jamaica since 2002, according to the Teams for Medical Missions website.
Hentzel is survived by his wife, Sara, and five children, including three who are of school age, Shive said.
Nichols is survived by his wife, Teri, a coordinator at the mission’s clinic in Jamaica. The couple had planned to return to the United States for a two-month furlough in mid-August, according to the mission’s website.
A post Saturday morning on Teri Nichols’ Facebook page shows the couple wearing backpacks and smiling.
Garrick, the police spokeswoman, acknowledged that Jamaica has “challenges as far as violent crime”.
“But we are not known to have much incidences against visitors or tourists,” she said. “Most of the time it’s a result of inter-gang feuds. This is something that’s against the norm.”
Neither Nichols and Hentzel mentioned they were scared for their safety, Shive said.
Teri Nichols said she hopes her husband’s killing doesn’t reflect poorly on the country.
“I don’t ever want anything portrayed that Jamaica is a terrible place,” she said. “I know this is a tragedy, but tragedies happen everywhere. They’ve been really good to us.”
As for whoever was responsible for the killings, Shive said, “We are asking for justice . . . and that they receive justice for what they’ve done.”
He said, “We don’t understand any of what might have been the motive behind it at all. It’s hard to imagine anyone in that area not knowing who they were.”