One of two missionaries killed in Texas died after extending his mission

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 9 2011 2:14 p.m. MST

Three LDS missionaries were hit by a vehicle Tuesday night in Texas while riding their bicycles. Elder Trevor Reinhold Strong, 21, of Taylorsville, and Elder Derek Jason Walker, 20, of Fairfield, Idaho, died of injuries in the incident.

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DONNA, TEXAS — One of the two LDS missionaries hit by a vehicle and killed Tuesday night in Texas while riding their bicycles was scheduled to return home from his mission last week.

Elder Trevor Reinhold Strong, 21, of Taylorsville, had extended his two-year Spanish-speaking mission because he felt he still had work to do, said his stake president in Utah. A stake is made up of multiple congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"He chose to extend three weeks so he could help with the training of a couple of missionaries, as well as complete work with a couple of families," Kearns Utah Stake President Kevin Weber said. Weber is a long-time neighbor of Gordon and Deb Strong and their family. "His new return date was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving."

Also killed was Elder Derek Jason Walker, 20, of Fairfield, Idaho, who like Strong died of injuries sustained in what Texas law enforcement officials are calling a hit-and-run incident. A third missionary, Elder Zachary Todd Harris, 19, of Huntsville, Ala., was injured, but was treated at a nearby hospital and released.

Elder Strong's father, Gordon, spoke Sunday about his son's decision to extend his mission during his LDS congregation's fast and testimony meeting. Fast and testimony meetings are held on the first Sunday of each month in LDS congregations, called wards. Ward members have the opportunity to stand extemporaneously and express their faith. As a member of the ward bishopric, Gordon Strong conducted the meeting and shared his message of faith first.

"He was just loving his mission — just eating it up," Weber said of Elder Strong. "Yesterday, in fact, was a day of training with the mission president, and they had a great day. His mission president saw him then, and said he was in great spirits. He told me what a great missionary Trevor was — how much of a difference he made in the lives of the missionaries, the members and the people they were teaching."

Elder Strong's twin brother, Scott, will be returning home from his Spanish-speaking mission in Arizona in time for Trevor's funeral, Weber said.

"Trevor was a great, great young man — one of the best," Weber said. "I can't remember him ever being in trouble at church or at school or in the neighborhood. He was so excited to go on his mission, and he loved every minute of it. He chose to be there, even extending an additional three weeks. He was doing what he loved. He will be missed."

Those thoughts were echoed by others who knew him.

"He's an amazing kid and he would do anything to serve the Lord," said Brittany Harris, a close friend. "That's what his focus was in life."

"He was an awesome kid," said another friend, Shannon Carlson. "He was always happy, always there for you."

Jen Amitoelau knew Elder Strong as a missionary, having recently returned from the same Texas mission. "His name says it all," she said. "He was a strong missionary. He was pretty much a spiritual giant."

Texas Highway Patrol Trooper Johnny Hernandez said the missionaries were riding their bicycles northbound on Midway South Road in Donna, about 14 miles southeast of McAllen, Texas, not far from the Mexican border. They were struck head-on by a southbound vehicle, which investigators say was trying to pass another vehicle.

Hernandez said one of the missionaries died at the scene, while the other was pronounced dead at the hospital.

According to the police report of the incident, the vehicle was driven by Jose Luis Garza, 32, of Weslaco, Texas. Garza and two passengers immediately fled the scene after the collision because, the report says, "they were scared." The driver surrendered himself to authorities at the Progreso International Bridge, a port of entry that is less than 10 miles from the scene of the accident.

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