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Friday, Oct. 31, 2014

3 Mormon missionaries die in 2 separate incidents

Families of two Utahns say both were happy and pleased to be on missions

By Emiley Morgan and Amy Joi O'Donoghue, Deseret News

Published: Sat, Aug. 23 12:40 p.m. MDT

 Elder Connor Benjamin Thredgold, 19, of Springville, was found dead in his apartment in Taiwan, along with Elder Yu Peng Xiong (not pictured), of Taiwan. Both were serving in the Taiwan Taipei Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Thredgold had been serving as a missionary since March. The cause of death hasn't officially been determined but church officials say no foul play is suspected.

Elder Connor Benjamin Thredgold, 19, of Springville, was found dead in his apartment in Taiwan, along with Elder Yu Peng Xiong (not pictured), of Taiwan. Both were serving in the Taiwan Taipei Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Thredgold had been serving as a missionary since March. The cause of death hasn't officially been determined but church officials say no foul play is suspected.

(Family photo)

SPRINGVILLE — In every picture that came to Greg and Cindy Thredgold of their son serving a mission in Taiwan, there was something that stood out.

"Connor just never smiled that big," Greg Thredgold said Saturday. "In every photo he is so happy, and he wrote back how he just loved the people of Taiwan and was just so loved by them. We would just get the pictures and go, 'Look how happy he is. He is truly, genuinely happy to be serving the Lord.'"

Connor Benjamin Thredgold, 19, was one of three LDS missionaries — two of them from Utah — who died this weekend in two separate incidents. His mother said she knows he was where he wanted to be.

"He wanted to do this," she said Saturday at her Springville home. "He wanted to make his family proud. He was truly happy doing what he was doing."

Thredgold and a missionary from Taiwan both died in their Taiwan apartment from unknown causes. LDS Church officials also confirmed Saturday that a sister missionary who was critically injured in a Friday car crash in Oklahoma died from her injuries.

Nancy Vea, 19, of West Jordan, was taken by medical helicopter to St. John Medical Center in Tulsa on Friday and was placed on life support, said Jessica Moody, a spokeswoman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Vea later died at the hospital.

Thredgold, of the church's Springville Utah West Stake, was found dead in his apartment, along with Elder Yu Peng Xiong, of the Kaohsiung Taiwan West Stake. Both were serving in the Taiwan Taipei Mission.

Authorities have not yet determined the official cause of their deaths, but Moody said no foul play is suspected. The family declined to answer any questions about potential causes, referring questions to Moody. She said late Saturday the church still had not been able to confirm any cause.

"Elder Xiong, age 24, had been serving as a missionary since March of 2013. Elder Thredgold, age 19, began his mission in March of 2014," Moody said. "We pray for their families and for all those who knew them, and express our love and deepest sympathies at this tragic time.”

Tom McHoes, a neighbor and family friend, said Thredgold's mission president raved about the young man, reporting that he was hardworking and friendly while serving in Taiwan.

"There wasn't anybody he wouldn't talk to or smile at, and that pretty much sums it up," McHoes said. "I don't think you would find a kinder, happier young man out there. He's the kind of young man that you would be proud to have as a father and as a friend."

Thredgold's family said their son had also shown a knack for speaking Mandarin and had been assigned to a native Taiwanese companion, despite having been in Taiwan for only three months. They said he worked tirelessly to earn money for his mission, working 24-hour shifts at times for a disaster cleanup company and repairing computers and remote control cars to resell.

"He was so excited to go out there and do that," McHoes said. "Connor was one of those kids that had a zest for life."

In the wake of the news of his death, his parents said they have been flooded with support from those in their LDS ward and stake. "We are surrounded by wonderful people," Greg Thredgold said.

It was anticipated that the Elder Connor Thredgold Memorial Fund would be established at Wells Fargo by day's end Monday.

Vea had been serving since May in the Oklahoma Tulsa Mission. "Two church members and three other missionaries were also in the vehicle" when the accident occurred, Moody said. "They were treated at a local hospital and are expected to fully recover."

Around 8:30 a.m. Friday, the van with Vea was heading south on the Muskogee Turnpike in Wagoner County. The driver of the van, identified as a church member but not a missionary, attempted a U-turn at a cutout in the concrete barrier, according to Oklahoma Highway Patrol Lt. Betsy Randolph. A semitrailer following behind applied its brakes.

The semitrailer was hit from the rear by a Freightliner 16-passenger bus, according to investigators, pushing it into the van. Vea was not wearing a seat belt, Randolph said, and was ejected from the car.

The cutouts where the driver attempted the U-turn are generally reserved for law enforcement, according to Randolph, and are risky to use for U-turns.

On Saturday, Vea's family released a statement.

"As a family, our hearts are broken at the death of our beloved daughter, sister and granddaughter. Her large family and her many friends will miss Nancy terribly, but we find comfort in knowing that she is in the arms of a loving Savior. Nancy was a happy, good and faithful daughter who had a gift for sharing her love and testimony with others," the statement said.

"She told us before her mission that it was her way of giving back to the Savior for the blessings she and her family have received. As her family, we have chosen to donate her organs. We know this is what she would want and we hope that other lives and families will be blessed by her selfless gift. We believe in the Savior, Jesus Christ, and know that we will see Nancy again someday because of His sacrifice. This knowledge gives us hope and great comfort as we mourn her passing and celebrate her life.”

Vea left for her mission from Aurora, Colorado, where her family was living at the time.

Email: emorgan@deseretnews.com; amyjoi@deseretnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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1. trekker
Salt Lake, UT,
Aug. 23, 2014

This so sad to hear about. My thoughts and prayers go out to the missionaries' families and friends.

2. Zgeo
Tempe, AZ,
Aug. 23, 2014

Our hearts, thoughta and prayers go out to the families of these fallen missionaires. Surely they were called to the other side to continue their missions.

3. marxist
Salt Lake City, UT,
Aug. 23, 2014

To anyone who has had a kid in the mission field news like this is a sock in the stomach. Commenting does no good of course, except that it allows us to share the pain.

4. A Quaker
Brooklyn, NY,
Aug. 23, 2014

I couldn't help wondering what "no sign of foul play" would have to do with the sudden deaths of two healthy young men. Checking the Taiwanese news sites, I found a mention of the incident. According to one website (ETtoday), police suspect they died of carbon monoxide poisoning, caused by an unvented gas-fired demand-type water heater.

(Slightly awkward Google Translate version of page's original Chinese text: "due to the water heater in the room, the police preliminary judgment, when a man suspected of taking a bath which did not open the window, cause carbon monoxide filled the house, both died of poisoning, will be reported to clarify the cause of death autopsy.")

I would hope that when missionaries are sent out, they would be given safety tips appropriate to the types of lodgings they could be expected to encounter in their mission areas. This seems like avoidable negligence on somebody's part.

5. BrentBot
Salt Lake City, UT,
Aug. 23, 2014

If there was "no foul play" in the Taiwan incident, it was likely due to carbon monoxide. It is difficult to get missionaries to change the batteries in their CO or smoke detector when it "chirps". Perhaps missions should insist on extra batteries to be stored in case of an inoperable CO or smoke detector.