A Seventh-day Adventist missionary missing in Belize for a week was confirmed deceased on January 2, media reports indicate. Brian Townsend, a missionary living in the Valley of Peace area of Belize, went missing on December 24, 2013. A body found in neighboring Guatemala has been identified as Townsend, who was 64, according to a report by CBC Edmonton.
"We have made formal identification," Belize Commanding Officer Dinsdale Thompson told the CBC in a story posted on their website. "We do know that, for sure, that it is a homicide and we are looking [in] that direction as well of the motive, of why they have killed him." The Canadian news report says police in Belize have identified two suspects and are working with Guatemalan authorities in a search.
Writing on Facebook the morning of January 3, Mark Johnson, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada, said, "Our thoughts and prayers are with Brian's family and the many lives he touched both in Belize and here throughout Canada. He threw all his considerable energy into the project in Belize. He will be sorely missed."
On Christmas Eve, Townsend's cook and neighbor saw his truck drive by with a mattress and rolled-up rug, heading out of town. The following morning when she arrived at the house for work, she discovered Townsend's truck was missing. Upon entering his single room house she discovered the place had been ransacked. Outside, approximately fifty feet from the house, "there was blood, there were two machetes in the place where they struggled" says Juan Arias, Vice Chairman of Valley of Peace who was on the scene soon after Townsend was noticed missing. Arias also stated, "It's like they hailed him to open the door and he did it. Because there was no forcing."
Police had also worked with the Canadian consulate and Kory Townsend, Townsend’s adult son, who traveled from his home in Western Canada to help search for his father.
Townsend moved to Belize from Canada to build the Valley of Peace Seventh-day Adventist High School and ended up staying after it was finished. "He was doing a lot of things, he had a couple projects. He built a school, towards his later years he was doing a vocational school, things like gardening and a wood shop," said Kory Townsend. "There are few people who can live a dream or live a goal, and embrace it with the passion he had." Kory also acknowledged his father's commitment to his Seventh-day Adventist faith and community. "This was a lifestyle for him, it was not just a project or a mission, he lived here."
According to Dennis Slusher, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Belize, “Townsend came to work in the Valley of Peace Community, helping build a school and church which now has about 50 members. He stayed on after the construction was finished, continuing to work for the betterment of the local community."
On December 30, Kory Townsend, accompanied by Patricia St. Jean and the Belize Disaster and Rescue Response Team visited Townsend's house in Belize and joined the search efforts. While at the house, neighbors and local Seventh-day Adventist church members kept dropping by and sharing what Townsend meant to them.
"Brian has been a role model for me, he has shown me a lot about mission work" said Miguel Ico, a local elder. "Through his efforts the Valley of Peace Seventh-day Adventist high school has been built."
Enrique Depaz was also a beneficiary of Townsend's kindness. He lived in Townsend's single-room house, but was out of town when Brian went missing. Enrique describes him as a "very positive man, very intelligent, he was always telling people how to live that Christian lifestyle." He recalls Townsend as a strong man who trusted in his faith completely: "He never showed that had fear of anything, because he always believed in God." Others told similar stories. Kory Townsend shared the story of a neighbor who told him that they had just named their newborn child in Townsend's honor.
On the evening of January 2, Ian Townsend, Brian's son-in-law who organized the family's efforts on Facebook, wrote, "With grieving hearts we inform you that the body found in Guatemala is Brian Townsend. We want you to know how much it meant to us, the support and prayers we received from all of you."
—with additional reporting by Tim Wolfer