Elder Norby awakes from coma, families provide updates about injured missionaries

Published: Saturday, March 26 2016 5:30 p.m. MDT

Elder Richard Norby, who was injured by a bomb Tuesday, March 22, 2016, in the terrorist attack at the Brussels airport, and Sister Pamela Birdwell Norby, a former member of the Relief Society General Board of the LDS Church, pose together in Brussels last month.

Courtesy of Norby family

SALT LAKE CITY — After the suicide bombs in the Brussels airport shredded his body with shrapnel and burned his skin, Elder Richard Norby, a 66-year-old Mormon missionary from Lehi, Utah, managed to call his wife.

He was lucid as he told her about the explosions and that he had a broken leg and burns on his face. "I wasn’t totally composed," Sister Pamela Norby told NBC News on Saturday.

"Pam," Elder Norby told her on the phone, "something's wrong. Just listen carefully, Pam, listen carefully."

She asked him if he was able to see the three missionaries who had gone with him to the airport so one could catch a flight. When he said no, her heart dropped. "I just needed to know where those young missionaries were because we love them and they're part of our family."

Then the phone went dead. The next time she saw him, he was in a medically induced coma. Doctors brought him out of the coma Saturday night.

The bloody, painful and harrowing experiences of the four missionaries wounded in the terrorist attack on Tuesday came into clearer view on Saturday with the first public statement by Sister Norby and the first interview with one of the other wounded missionaries, Elder Joseph Empey, 20, as well as fresh interviews with the missionaries' families.

They also provided new information about their medical conditions.

Elder Norby awoke and interacted with family members in his hospital room, according to a Facebook post.

"We asked him to open his eyes if he could hear us," his son Jason Norby wrote. "With all the energy our father, husband and friend could muster, he lifted his head as high as he could off of the bed and very deliberately turned his head to our direction. We burst into sobs of joy and tears filled our masks."

Sister Norby hadn't reached him Tuesday until after doctors placed him in the coma to allow his body to relax and heal from the severe leg injuries. The development added to the Norby family's anticipation of an Easter celebration, Sister Norby said.

"To do it with family in this situation and friends and members of our church stake and feeling united with everyone, I think everyone will take an opportunity to make this a great celebration."

After the dropped call, Sister Norby and members of the Brussels congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spent hours scrambling to find her husband and the other missionaries in local hospitals. The four missionaries were taken to four different local hospitals around the Belgian capital.

The Norbys have served together since September as a senior missionary in the France Paris Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Normally, she goes everywhere with him, but this time there had been no room for her in the car.

On Saturday, the families of all four had arrived in Brussels.

Elder Empey, who is from Santa Clara, Utah, is still in the hospital. He has gauze or heavy bandaging on his head and both hands for burns and on both legs for burns and shrapnel wounds.

"I'm doing awesome," he told NBC News in his first public interview. "I'm feeling good."

His father, Court Empey, told NBC News his son will need more surgery next week.

"But he's healing and I think he's going to have a full recovery and be able to play guitar and snowboard and do some of the things athletically he likes to do, so we're really hopeful for a full recovery."

The four missionaries apparently were standing together at the back of the Delta check-in line when shrapnel and flames from the first explosion struck them.

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