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4 die in swimming accident off Mexico’s southern coast

TAPACHULA, Mexico (BP)–A Southern Baptist missionary, his 11-year-old daughter and two summer missionaries died June 18 in a swimming accident on Mexico’s southern coast.
Gary Sloan, 37, his daughter, Carla, and summer missionaries John Weems, 21, of Nacogdoches, Texas, and Joy Murphy, 19, of Pelham, Ala., drowned in the ocean near Tapachula, Mexico, where they had gone with Sloan’s wife, Gloria, their three other children and three other summer missionaries to celebrate a family birthday.
Sloan, Carla and the five summer missionaries were caught in a strong undertow, said Mike McAleer, another Southern Baptist missionary in Mexico. Although the beach was a familiar swimming spot, the waves were especially high.
When the group realized they were in trouble, they struggled to get back to shore, McAleer said. Carla was overcome by the high surf and knocked from the hands of those who were trying to get her back to the beach.
Sloan, Weems and summer missionaries John Floyd of Crosby, Texas, David Pitts of Wewahitchka, Fla., and Hannah Carter of Shreveport, La., made it back to shore with Carla’s body, but efforts to revive her failed.
At some point, Weems went back into the water to help others get out and was caught in the undertow again, McAleer said. When Sloan saw Weems and Murphy struggling in the water, he went back out to help them. None of them made it back to shore.
Passersby heard the cries for help and tied a rope around one man, who waded out toward the drowning missionaries. The undertow was so strong it not only almost carried him out to sea, but almost pulled in the people holding the rope on shore.
Weems’ body had not been recovered as of midmorning Saturday.
The Sloans were appointed as missionaries to Mexico by the International Mission Board in June 1998. A native of Lufkin, Texas, Sloan was pastor of Iglesia Bautista de la Comunidad (Community Baptist Church) in Crosby, Texas, prior to missionary appointment.
They have three other children, Alyssia Lee, born in 1989; Rissa Joy, born in 1992; and Alan David, born in 1995.
Weems was a rising senior majoring in computer information systems at Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss. Murphy was a rising sophomore at the University of Montevallo in Alabama. They were part of a team of college students who had just arrived to work in a summer evangelism project.
Sloan was assigned as a general evangelist to Tapachula, the commercial center of a coffee-growing region at the foot of the Chiapas highlands near the Guatemala border in southeast Mexico. His wife, a native of El Salvador, is assigned to work in church and home outreach.
Sloan was a graduate of Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He previously served as a Baptist Student Union semester missionary in Mexico and as pastor of Big Tex Baptist Church, a mission of Oak View Baptist Church in Irving, Texas.
Sloan and his daughter will be buried Monday in Tapachula. The bodies of the two summer missionaries will be returned to the United States.
The three other summer missionaries will return to the United States.