Southern Utah missionary injured in Brussels terrorist attack receives hometown welcome

ST. GEORGE — Two weeks after being injured in the March 22 Brussels, Belgium, bombing attack, 20-year-old Joseph “Dres” Empey returned to his home Wednesday evening in Santa Clara.

Two weeks after being injured in the Brussels, Belgium, bombing attack, 20-year-old Joseph "Dres" Empey returned to his home in Santa Clara, Utah, April 6, 2016 | Photo by Kimberly Scott, St. George News
Two weeks after being injured in the Brussels, Belgium, bombing attack, 20-year-old Joseph “Dres” Empey returned to his home in Santa Clara, Utah, April 6, 2016 | Photo by Kimberly Scott, St. George News

Sirens blared in the normally quiet neighborhood as the Empey family, escorted by members of the Santa Clara Police and Fire departments, returned home from University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City with their son.

Friends, family members, neighbors and other community members filled the Empey’s street that was lined with American flags while the front lawn of the Empey’s home was covered in red, black and yellow helium balloons representing the national flag of Belgium.

Signs proclaiming “Welcome Home Elder Empey” could be seen throughout the neighborhood as Southern Utah residents cheered, waved and lined up to greet the young man, who had been serving as a missionary for nearly the last two years for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Paris, France, mission when the terrorist attack occurred.

“We’re just here to welcome him home and to show him how much we love him,” Joseph Empey’s aunt Nancy Hauck said before adding: “He looks great – he looks beautiful if you can say that about a boy.”

Neighbors Brian and Kristin Hill, who have been friends with the Empey family for the last 20 years, said they used to babysit Joseph Empey when he was a little boy, making the news of his injuries especially difficult for their family to hear.

“I remember the morning it happened,” Brian Hill said of the Brussels terrorist attack. “I was actually watching the news and saw the bombings and I thought, ‘Man, what are the odds that Joe was on the train?’ I didn’t even think about the airport – just being a missionary and being on the train seemed more logical – and not five minutes later, I got a call from the neighbor saying that Joe was in the bombing.”

Joseph "Dres" Empey, 20, of Santa Clara, Utah, was injured in a Brussels, Belgium, bombing attack March 22 while serving an LDS mission, photo location and date unspecified| Photo courtesy of the Empey family, St. George News
Joseph “Dres” Empey, 20, of Santa Clara, Utah, was injured in a Brussels, Belgium, bombing attack March 22 while serving an LDS mission, photo location and date unspecified | Photo courtesy of the Empey family, St. George News

Joseph Empey and two other missionaries were at the Brussels airport accompanying a fourth missionary, who was on her way to a mission assignment in Ohio. The four missionaries were in proximity of the explosion when it occurred and all were subsequently hospitalized as a result of their injuries.

Now, back home in Southern Utah, Kristin Hill said the neighborhood is glad to see Joseph Empey back safe and sound.

“It was really hard,” she said. “I think it was a blow to the whole neighborhood. It’s a little scary when you see someone that’s like your own kid go through something like that, so I think we all kind of reacted like it was our own child.”

LDS Bishop Chad Parker said he has worked with Joseph Empey at church for the last four to five years.

“He’s a great young man,” he said, “and so we just wanted to show him how much we love him and gather the community and the neighborhood and the ward around, and just be there for him.”

Parker said the large turnout of well-wishers waiting to welcome the elder home from his mission Wednesday was exactly what he had expected.

High school friend and neighbor Justin Morgan called Joseph Empey an “awesome kid” who is loved by many, adding that it is fun to see him back home.

“I’m surprised,” Morgan said of the large turnout,” but at the same time I’m not because he is such a great individual.”

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Email: kscott@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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3 Comments

  • ladybugavenger April 7, 2016 at 8:55 am

    Welcome Home!

    • .... April 7, 2016 at 11:19 pm

      Nothing like welcoming your Mormon brethren home eh ?

  • Brian April 7, 2016 at 10:25 am

    Wow, it’s amazing to think that the person in bandages in the pictures is the same one in the video. And in only 2 weeks. What an amazing (dare I say miraculous) recovery! Welcome home, Joseph! What great love and support from family and neighbors.

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