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Families mourning two American missionaries killed in Jamaica

Randy Hentzel went to Jamaica to teach students about the Bible, but he brought an unusual educational tool: power tools.

“He was good at everything. He knew everything about everything,” his wife, Sara Hentzel, said Tuesday. “He was just always looking for ways to make people’s lives better.”

He believed deeply that the Bible would improve his students’ lives, but he also knew they needed a way to make a living. So he taught them both prayer and construction skills, then paid them to repair churches and build children’s Christmas toys.

He was on his way to visit one such construction site when he and fellow missionary Harold Nichols were killed.

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Jamaican police have not identified a suspect or a motive in the killings. The men’s bodies were found in bushes along a rural road in northern Jamaica on Saturday, the Associated Press reported.

The family of Nichols, 53, could not be reached Tuesday. The AP said that he had been a missionary in Jamaica for 12 years.

Both men worked together for the organization Teams for Medical Missions. Sara Hentzel said that she and her husband decided to move to Jamaica to be missionaries after she first visited the country on a brief church trip she took with the two oldest of the couple’s five children.

“There’s an overwhelming need in Jamaica, so you could never do enough,” she said. The couple started taking trips to Jamaica several times a year to help. In 2008, they moved there, Sara Hentzel said.

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She said her husband wanted to open a school to train local ministers, and did so in 2012. The first class of 23 students graduated from the three-year program in October, and 75 more are in the pipeline now, she said.

“We saw the lack of training and the desire for that training that they had,” she said. “My husband loved to teach, and he loved to see lives changed. So we went.”

The Hentzels — along with Nichols and his wife, Teri — also hosted occasional medical clinics and helped build houses.

The Hentzels’ three youngest children — ages 14, 16 and 18, with older siblings who are 27 and 29 — accompanied their parents to Jamaica. Sara Hentzel recently moved back to the United States with the kids so that they could go to high school at home.

Her husband of 29 years stayed to finish handing over leadership of the school. He planned to join the family at home in Iowa by their middle child’s graduation on May 14, Sara Hentzel said.

Even as Hentzel finished his time in Jamaica, he still loved to explore the country, often alongside Nichols on their motorbikes. Sara Hentzel said she thinks that is what they were doing when they were killed. She knows they had set out to inspect the foundation of a house they were planning to build, and she guesses that they then went out of their way for a pleasure ride.

“I just feel like they got out of an area where people knew him,” she said. Among the locals the families had come to know, she said, she never once felt threatened despite Jamaica’s notoriously high rate of violent crime. In 2015, at least 1,192 people were killed, on an island of fewer than 3 million people, the AP reported.

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Sara Hentzel said she hopes their school in Jamaica will continue.

“Randy really loved to teach, and he really loved to see how God moved in people’s lives,” she said. “We’ll miss him.”

This story has been updated.

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