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With 10 deaths this year: Are Mormon missionaries safe?
Proselytizing » Numbers say yes — they may be safer serving than not — but 10 have died this year and ‘the loss of even one’ is painful.

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Like Ward, Josh Burton, 23, from Alberta, Canada, died in a traffic accident in July, when a truck he was riding in overturned in Guatemala. Two other missionaries — 22-year-old Alesa Renee Smith, of Benton, Ark., and Jason Wiberg, 19, of Roy — were hit and killed while riding bicycles, a common mode of travel for LDS missionaries in many locales.

Smith died when she was struck from behind by a truck in Woodward, Okla., as she and her companion, who was not injured, rode single file. Wiberg was traveling home from Saturday evening appointments in a neighborhood near Kuching, Malaysia, when he was hit by a car. His companion rendered aid and Wiberg was taken by ambulance to a hospital but died of his injuries.

At a glance

Mormon missionary deaths this year

Taylor Shane Ward » The 19-year-old from Vacaville, Calif., died last month after the compact car he was riding in was hit by a pickup near Rockford in southeastern Idaho. Ward was serving in the Idaho Pocatello Mission.

Jose Daniel Encarnacion Montero » The 20-year-old from the Dominican Republic was killed Aug. 31 in Colombia by a stray bullet.

Jason Reid Wiberg » The Roy 19-year-old was fatally hit by a car while riding a bicycle Aug. 25 in Malaysia.

Thomas Milo Bennett » The 21-year-old LDS missionary from Window Rock, Ariz., suffered cardiac arrest and died Aug. 3 in a hospital in Casper, Wyo.

Juan Junior Litano Montero » The 20-year-old missionary in the Peru Piura Mission died in July of tuberculous meningoencephalitis.

Joshua Allen Burton » The 23-year-old, from Alberta, Canada, died in Guatemala on July 22, when a truck he was riding in overturned.

Siosiua “Josh” Taufa » The Salt Lake City 20-year-old was electrocuted June 19 in Guatemala while trying to fix a family’s leaky roof. Taufa was the son of Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Aiveni “Ivan” Taufa, a member of Gov. Gary Herbert’s security team.

Jeffrey Rogil Guerra Alfaro » The 22-year-old from Lidingo, Sweden, was serving in the Utah Provo Mission in May, when he suffered a fatal aneurysm while jogging with his missionary companion.

Alesa Renee Smith » The 22-year-old from Benton, Ark., was killed in Woodward, Okla., on Feb. 1, when she was hit by a truck while on her bicycle.

George Peter Solie » The 21-year-old Kansas native had served for a year in the Utah Salt Lake City West Mission when he died Jan. 23 from an unidentified medical condition.

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Four missionaries this year have succumbed to illness or other health problems despite efforts by LDS officials since the 1980s to improve screening and delivery of medical services in the mission field.

A 20-year-old Peruvian missionary, Juan Junior Litano Montero, contracted tuberculous meningoencephalitis and died in July in his home city of Piura while awaiting visa approval for travel to Argentina. Three others died of apparently natural causes.

Kansas native George Peter Solie, 22, died of an unidentified medical condition in mid-January, after serving in Salt Lake City for about a year. Jeffrey Rogil Guerra Alfaro, also 22, from Lidingo, Sweden, was jogging with his companion in the Utah Provo Mission in May, when he collapsed after suffering a ruptured cerebral aneurysm. Thomas Milo Bennett, a 21-year-old missionary from Window Rock, Ariz., perished from cardiac arrest at a hospital in Casper, Wyo., after complaining of nausea earlier in the day.

Scores of Mormon physicians donate their services to help missionaries — both on site and through a Salt Lake City-based team of 40 volunteer doctors and mental health workers that reviews and gives medical advice in cases worldwide.

"Our primary objective is to help provide a more effective workforce among the missionaries," Donald B. Doty, a Utah thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon who heads the LDS Missionary Department Health Services, said earlier this year.

According to church statistics, fewer than 3 percent of missionaries are ill on a given day, a dramatic reduction from three decades ago.

Among the least predictable and most common dangers facing missionaries is random street crime, which in August claimed the life of 20-year-old Jose Daniel Encarnacion Montero, a Mormon from the Dominican Republic. Montero was killed by a stray bullet in Cali, Colombia, according to a statement from Ruth Todd, LDS Church spokeswoman. His companion and two other missionaries also at the scene were unharmed.

Colombian news reports indicate the shooting occurred inside an apartment late at night. No witnesses have come forward who saw or heard the shots, and police have been unable to confirm where the bullet came from.

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Siosiua "Josh" Taufa, 20, of Salt Lake City, was electrocuted in June while serving an LDS mission in Guatemala. The Skyline High graduate and talented football player was fixing a leaky roof during a rainstorm in the southwestern part of the Central American country when he slipped and grabbed an active power line.

His mother, Juliete Taufa, said those circumstances spoke volumes about her son, who chose to go on a mission over pursuing his athletic interests.

"He was trying to help out a family."


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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