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Three Mormon missionaries die in two separate incidents

Published August 24, 2014 11:54 am

Missionary serving in Oklahoma succumbs to injuries she received in an auto accident; two missionaries are found dead in Taiwan.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Springville • Connor Thredgold worked 20-hour shifts to pay for his Mormon mission to Taiwan, and by the time he got there, he was smiling bigger than his family ever saw.

The 19-year-old was in the country for only about three months. He and another missionary, 24-year-old Yu Peng Xiong, were found dead Saturday in their Taipei apartment.

Foul play is not suspected, church officials said.

Another 19-year-old missionary from West Jordan, Nancy Ann Vea, also died Saturday. She was injured in an Oklahoma car accident on Friday.

In every photo Thredgold sent to his family from the other side of the world, he was smiling from ear to ear.

"We've had a couple of other sons serve missions in the United States, but this was our first one outside the United States, and Connor just never smiled that big. Every photo, he is so happy," his father, Greg Thredgold, said, his arm around his wife in front of their Springville home.

"He wrote back about how he just loved the people of Taiwan and was so loved by them. And we would just get the pictures and go, 'Look how happy he is.' "

Thredgold wasn't expected to live when he was born; he was premature and very sick, but "had some miracles happen to keep him alive," eventually leaving intensive care after 10 days, Greg Thredgold added.

He grew up to become a creative and hard-working man. To pay for his mission, Thredgold repaired electronics and worked long days at his disaster cleanup job — sometimes 20- to 24-hour shifts, his father said. Thredgold's boss said he never complained, and the cleanup crew missed him desperately when he left on his mission, his father added.

"He wanted to do this. He wanted to make his family proud," his mother, Cindy Thredgold, said.

Vea, who was serving in the Tulsa, Okla., mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was put on life support Friday after the van in which she was riding was struck from behind on the Muskogee Turnpike.

The accident occurred when the driver of the van, which was carrying two church members and three other missionaries, was trying to make a U-turn using a barricade turnaround, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. The OHP said the driver of a tractor-trailer behind the van hit the brakes, but was struck by a third vehicle, which pushed it into the van.

Vea was ejected from the van, the OHP said. The others in the van were treated at a local hospital and expected to recover.

Vea's family members said their hearts are broken at the death of their beloved daughter, sister and granddaughter but they take comfort in knowing they will see her again someday.

"Nancy was a happy, good and faithful daughter who had a gift for sharing her love and testimony with others," the Vea family said in a written statement. "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."

The church does not share its statistics on missionary deaths, but independent counts since the 1980s indicate the rate hovers between three and six a year. That is substantially below death rates for those same age groups across U.S. and world populations — as tracked by the World Health Organization and several prominent academic journals. Rates of death for non-missionaries of a similar age are six to 20 times higher, depending on the measures used.

In Taiwan, authorities are investigating the deaths of Thredgold, of the Springville West Stake, and Xiong, of the Kaohsiung, Taiwan, West Stake.

Xiong had been serving as a missionary since March 2013.

"We pray for their families and for all those who knew them and express our love and deepest sympathies at this tragic time," Jessica Moody, a spokeswoman for the church, said in a written statement.

A Wells Fargo Bank account, under the name Connor Thredgold Memorial Fund, will be set up by the end of the day Monday for the Thredgolds, said family spokesperson Tom McHoes.

pmanson@sltrib.com, mmcfall@sltrib.com

Twitter: @PamelaMansonSLC, @mikeypanda