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SALT LAKE CITY — An 18-year-old missionary for the LDS Church was killed in Southern California Thursday when he was struck by a vehicle while riding his bicycle.
It was the church's second missionary death in two days. Both missionaries had been in their assigned missions for less than a month.
Elder Andrew Edward Page, 18, from Charlotte, N.C., was hit while riding on Newburgh Street in Azusa, Calif., a little after 4 p.m. Thursday, according to Azusa police. He had been in the Mexico City Missionary Training Center for six weeks and had arrived in California about three weeks before the accident.
Elder Colt Daniel Kunz, 20, of Victor, Idaho, died Wednesday while serving in the church's Mexico Tampico Mission after coming in contact with a live electrical wire. Kunz arrived in Mexico less than a month ago.
Both were described by those close to them as young men who were full of love who helped lift others up.
Page's companion reported that the two were on bicycles and had missed the turn where they were headed, said Page's stake president, Bryant Baker. They were turning around when Page was struck.
"For some reason Andrew stopped for a minute and adjusted his pants leg and then he just kind of whipped around his bike and didn't look and a car was coming," he said.
Page was wearing a helmet when the car hit him. The officer on the scene told Baker that Page's death was an accident. "There was no fault on anyone's part and just, you know, a moment of inattention," Baker said.
The death of a missionary is felt by every church member in a deep and personal way.
He was taken by medical helicopter in critical condition to a nearby trauma center with "major injuries including head trauma," according to police. Page died shortly after 10 p.m. Thursday.
Baker has known Page for six years and has been the family's home teacher for much of that time. He described Page as "a nerdy and trickster type guy, (who) had a very, very solid testimony of the gospel and was just really looking forward to his mission."
Page was well-known throughout the Charlotte stake. He served as a member of the stake youth committee and developed relationships with the youth there.
"Very intelligent, very smart, very good student, Eagle Scout — just everything that you would want a son to be," Baker said.
Page has three older sisters and "was the only male figure in the home" after his father died about four years ago. "He took that role very seriously and honored his priesthood and strove to be a priesthood leader in the home," Baker said.
Kunz had gone to another missionary's apartment Wednesday so he could attend a Thursday training meeting, according to his family. He and the other missionaries decided to study scriptures outside because it was cooler. The missionaries lived on the second story of the building and needed to walk on a ledge to get back inside.
"There was a live wire hanging and it brushed against him and the shock pushed him off the building. So he fell two stories and then landed. So that's what ended up being the cause of death," the missionary's brother, Burke Kunz, said Friday.
The paramedics performed CPR on Kunz for a half hour, "but they just couldn't get him back," his brother said.
Colt Kunz was the youngest of 10 children and was everyone's favorite, according to his brother.
"He was our hero. Even though he was the youngest, every one of us looked up to him and he was our example of what a Christlike life should be. He just was always helping other people and we all felt like we wanted to be like him," he said.
Five years separate the next youngest sibling, so Kunz lived at home with his parents for four years, developing a close relationship with them.
"He loved my mom. His last email, the last thing he wrote was, 'I love you so much, Mom.' He loved ... his parents and he loved the Savior more than anything."
In early September, the church issued a statement noting that 10 missionaries had died from accident or illness over the course of this year.
"The death of a missionary is felt by every church member in a deep and personal way," Elder David F. Evans, executive director of the church’s Missionary Department, said at that time.
"Data that provide an exact comparison are difficult to identify, but relevant data from the World Health Organization indicate that the annual mortality rate for young people worldwide in this age range is approximately 205 deaths per 100,000 population," Elder Evans said. "For missionaries, that figure is less than 1/20th of that number. Nevertheless, no statistics can lessen the pain of a missionary’s passing."
Church President Thomas S. Monson announced Saturday that the church now has more than 80,000 full-time missionaries serving — up from 58,500 in October 2012.
Historically, missionary deaths have averaged a few per year from accident or illness. Similar numbers of deaths occurred in 2003 and 2008.