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Safety of missionaries is priority, LDS leader says

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Elder M. Russell Ballard speaks Friday following the slaying of one missionary and the deaths of two others.

Elder M. Russell Ballard speaks Friday following the slaying of one missionary and the deaths of two others.

Shaun Stahle, Deseret Morning News

When accidents happen, there often is no explanation.

"An accident is an accident, and we have to accept it for that," said Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The slaying of Elder Morgan W. Young on Monday in Chesapeake, Va., and the deaths of two LDS missionaries in New Zealand Friday prompted Elder Ballard to discuss missionary safety with members of the news media Friday afternoon.

Elders Bradley J. Isle, 20, of Las Vegas and Jonathan R. Talmadge, 21, of Willamina, Ore., were killed Friday in a head-on automobile collision near Temuka, New Zealand.

"When we lose one missionary, the whole church mourns over the loss," Elder Ballard said.

About 52,000 young men and women are serving in 343 missions around the world, he said. That's a lot of people to keep track of, but efforts are made to keep them safe.

A mission president and his wife are assigned to each mission to instruct missionaries how to take care of themselves and supervise their proselytizing. In the church's missionary training centers around the world, missionaries learn basic safety precautions, such as staying with their assigned companions at all times.

Mission presidents meet every four to six weeks with missionaries in zone conferences to discuss concerns, Elder Ballard said.

"The world is just a different world. It's becoming a more violent world, as we all know," he said.

And the church's missionary force, akin to a major city, is largely composed of 19-to-21-year-olds who can be exuberant.

"Most of them do (listen)," Elder Ballard said.

But when the unthinkable happens, the church lends its support to families, he said.

The Young family was flown to Virginia on a jet in the middle of the night to be with Morgan Young. And Elder Ballard and a member of the church's First Presidency plan to speak at his funeral.

Other church leaders will be assigned to meet with Isle and Talmadge's families.

"We pray that the Lord will bless them. . . . We extend our love and appreciation," Elder Ballard said. "I think that brings peace to the parents."

Despite this week's tragedies, Elder Ballard said young men should continue to plan on serving missions.

"The safest place in the world for 19-to-21-year-old men is in the service of the Lord," he said.

Dale Bills, church spokesman, said Isle and Talmadge were assigned to the church's Wellington New Zealand mission, one of two missions in the country.

The two men, the only occupants of their vehicle, were reportedly traveling to dinner when they crashed into an oncoming vehicle. Local authorities said they died on impact. It was not clear which man was driving.

A female passenger in the other vehicle also was killed in the accident and two other occupants were hurt, Bills said.

No other information was available from LDS Church officials Friday.

KIFI-TV, the ABC affiliate in Pocatello, reported that Isle had attended Brigham Young University before leaving in October for his LDS mission. Isle is the brother of a producer who works for KIFI, the station's Web site reported.

Isle's body was to arrive in Las Vegas sometime next week, according to KIFI's Web site.

Additional information was reported in today's edition of The Timaru Herald. The New Zealand newspaper said speed likely was a factor in the crash and that the female victim was an elderly woman.

The accident occurred at 5:10 p.m. Friday, New Zealand time, on Waitohi-Temuka Road near the community of Temuka, according to the paper. It quoted Temuka Police Sgt. Paul Scoble as saying the missionaries' vehicle was traveling at high speed on a straight stretch of road and then crossed over the center line and hit a vehicle with three occupants.

The car occupied by Isle and Talmadge "burst into fire and set alight a gorse fence and long grass on the roadside," the newspaper reported.

The other vehicle, a Nissan, was moved away from the fire by the first people to arrive on the scene, the paper said.

The Herald said the elderly woman who died was sitting in the front passenger seat of that car. The driver and backseat passenger were taken to Timaru Hospital with serious injuries.

The paper said there were no witnesses to the accident but that a fire ball sparked by the impact was seen from four kilometers away. The road was closed for six hours as a result of the crash.

E-mail: zman@desnews.com; jdougherty@desnews.com