The family is taking it pretty hard, but they have great faith. They got him ready to go on this mission. They trust their son is in Heavenly Father's care. —Romero Brown, president of the Chinle Arizona Stake

CASPER, Wyo. — A 21-year-old missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints suffered cardiac arrest and died in a Casper, Wyo., hospital three days before he had been scheduled to fly home for a surgical procedure.

According to LDS Church spokeswoman Ruth Todd, Elder Thomas Milo Bennett of Window Rock, Ariz., a missionary in the church's South Dakota Rapid City Mission, died Saturday after being "admitted to the hospital for nausea earlier in the day."

The young missionary, Todd said, "later suffered cardiac arrest" and died.

Romero Brown, president of the Chinle Arizona Stake, confirmed Monday afternoon that Elder Bennett had been scheduled to fly home Tuesday to have surgery as a result of illness he was experiencing in the mission field.

"I got a call on Friday and was told they were going to send Elder Bennett home, that he needed surgery," Brown said. "Then the next day we get this awful news. The mission president said the medical staff did everything they could to help him."

An autopsy is scheduled for Tuesday to determine the cause of death.

Brown said Elder Bennett is the third of Darrell and Laverne Bennett's four children.

"The family is taking it pretty hard," Brown said. "But they have great faith. They got him ready to go on this mission. They trust their son is in Heavenly Father's care."

Brown said Elder Bennett "grew up in front of me," since he and Brown's son, Warren, were best friends.

"I remember when Thomas was 6 years old, he would always come to church in this dark suit and a white shirt and tie with a name tag that said 'Future Missionary' on it," Brown said.

Along with two other friends, John Martinez and Shelby Tulley, Warren and Thomas grew up promising each other that they would all serve full-time missions for the church. Brown said this was a little unusual at the time, because historically the stake rarely had more than two or three missionaries serving at a time.

"But we've sent 20 missionaries out during the past three years — including all four of those great young men," Brown said, emotion choking his voice. "Sending them out has been a great joy. But I didn't expect this (responding to the death of a full-time missionary) to be part of my calling."

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On Monday, Brown wrote to his son to inform him of Elder Bennett's passing, indicating his friend had “ ‘returned with honor' to Heavenly Father." Young Elder Brown responded with a photograph of the four Chinle Stake friends together, and the pledge that "I'll finish this earthly mission for him."

Funeral services for Elder Bennett are pending, although Brown said they would most likely be held on Friday or Saturday.

Speaking for the LDS Church, Todd said, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Elder Bennett as they mourn his passing."