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LDS MISSIONARY HOPED TO EXTEND STAY BEYOND 2 YEARS

SHARE LDS MISSIONARY HOPED TO EXTEND STAY BEYOND 2 YEARS

Gale Stanley Critchfield loved the Irish people so much that he had hoped his LDS mission president would let him extend his missionary service beyond the customary two-year period.

Critchfield's missionary labors were cut short Sunday night, however, when he fell victim to an unprovoked stabbing while returning to his apartment in a suburb of Dublin, Ireland. His funeral tentatively has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, June 2, in the Payson West Stake Center, 730 W. 500 South. Burial will be in Wellsville, Cache County."His death will bless the Irish people," said Critchfield's father, Gale, from the family's West Mountain home, near Payson. "But we don't understand the Lord and all his purposes and plans."

He said his son had always longed to serve a mission and was grateful for his call to Ireland, where he had labored for 15 months.

"How he loved the Irish people, and how grateful he was to be serving there in Ireland. He had indicated to us that he didn't know when he would be released because he was going to ask for an extension of time."

A steady stream of friends, relatives and ecclesiastical leaders called on the Critchfields and their seven other children Monday as news of the stabbing spread throughout this tiny agricultural community. Visitors shared the family's grief as they struggled to make sense of their loss.

According to Irish authorities, a suspect in the stabbing was arrested Monday and was scheduled for a court appearance Tuesday.

The attack occurred about 11 p.m. Sunday after Critchfield and his companion got out of a bus on their way home from a farewell meeting. Upon leaving the bus, and while attempting to escort a young girl home, the missionaries were accosted by a group of youths who began following and taunting them.

"They began accusing the Mormon missionaries of various things," the victim's father said.

As the missionaries hurried to their apartment after taking the girl home, the youths again followed them. The missionaries had just unlocked their apartment door when Critchfield turned around and was stabbed in the heart. He died a short while later at a nearby hospital.

"We are extremely distressed at the sudden and tragic death of Elder Critchfield," said mission President William P. Martin in a statement released Monday. "At this time our thoughts and prayers are with his family and with all others who may be implicated in this tragedy."

Critchfield's father said he had feared for his son's safety in Ireland because of premonitions the family had about what might happen to him.

In a recent letter, Critchfield's father said, his son told a friend "that he was frightened to death of this call. But because the Lord had called, he was going to answer the call and go. He just had a feeling that something like this would happen.

"We were concerned about his serving in Ireland, but we commended him into the hands of the Lord, and his will be done," he said. "At his farewell I said to him, `I feel like I'm pushing you into the lions' den.' But he would go and do it all again, even if he knew that this was the outcome, even if he knew that this was the way it was going to end up."

Critchfield, 20, was the first missionary to receive the Ireland Dublin Mission's "Rod of Iron" award while working in the mission home. The award recognizes missionaries for success in proselyting, which Critchfield did in addition to his mission home duties.

"It was a particularly significant thing that he accomplished this after spending a full day in the mission home, because he was not required to proselyte," his father said. "He was a good missionary. He gave his all in the form of his time and energy, as well as the ultimate sacrifice of his life."

Critchfield, a 1988 graduate of Payson High School, loved sports and was active in high school athletics. He had written little to his parents about his future plans, however, choosing to concentrate on his missionary work instead.

Critchfield's father said he believes his son's death will benefit LDS missionary work in Ireland. Already, several people from Ireland have called to tell the family how their son's death has softened people's feelings toward the church and its message.

"That doesn't relieve us of the pain and the suffering and the loss of a boy, but we have no bitterness toward anyone. It's a blessing to have had him for 19 years as part of our family, and we have a great hope of the resurrection and that we might be reunited with him again."

For now, he said, the family is relying on their faith, and each other, to see them through.