Two LDS missionaries, one from Utah, killed in crash

Their vehicle struck a semitruck in North Dakota; five LDS missionaries have now died this year.

Two 20-year-old Latter-day Saint missionaries died Tuesday after their vehicle struck a semitruck on a North Dakota highway

Robert “Tommy” Gardner, from Riverton, and Jacob Aaron Kesler, from Ely, Nevada, were traveling outside the town of Beulah, located an hour northwest of the state capital of Bismarck, when they hit the truck, which had stopped in the road due to an accident, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said in a Wednesday news release.

According to the release, both missionaries died at the scene.

Jeremiah Bohn, northwest regional sergeant for the North Dakota Highway Patrol, said his team was still working on a “reconstruction” of the crash. He said the missionaries’ vehicle hit the stopped truck “at regular highway speeds” just after 2:30 p.m., when visibility was “good” and the roads were dry.

Gardner had been serving in the Utah-based faith’s North Dakota Bismarck Mission since November 2022. Kesler had been there since July 2022.

In one of his final posts to Facebook, Gardner wrote that he loved sports, music and “sharing messages about Jesus Christ and how we can gain peace through him.”

Kesler, meanwhile, posted in March his belief that “if we want to live with God again, we must follow him and live his gospel. I know that God wants all of us to return back to live with him after this life.”

In the release, spokesperson Sam Penrod said the church extends its “love and condolences to Elder Kesler’s and Elder Gardner’s families and friends and their fellow missionaries in the North Dakota Bismarck Mission.”

“We pray they will each be comforted and feel peace during this tragic time,” Penrod said, “as they reflect on the faithful service these young men have given to the Savior by sharing his gospel.”

The two men represent the fourth and fifth publicly reported deaths of full-time Latter-day Saint missionaries this year.

A senior missionary couple from San Antonio serving in the California Fresno Mission died last month after a truck collided with their vehicle, which was stopped at a red light.

In March, a 19-year-old proselytizer from Idaho died from a “sudden medical emergency” while serving in New Jersey.

Seven Latter-day Saint missionaries were known to have died in 2023 while filling volunteer proselytizing assignments for the 17.2 million-member church.