Fear Won’t Stop Missionary Injured in Belgium Airport Bombing

Contributed By Tad Walch, Deseret News

  • 9 August 2016

Richard Norby laughs at an unrecognizeable photo of himself from his time in the hospital recovering from the March terrorist attack on the Brussels airport at home in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 27, 2016. Norby was in Brussels serving a mission.  Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

“I’m not a victim; I’m a survivor. ... I’m going to live my life, and I’m going to teach my children and grandchildren that we put our trust in God.” —Richard Norby, Brussels bombing survivor

In early March, Sister Pam Norby walked up behind her husband, Elder Richard Norby, as he sat at a table in their Brussels, Belgium, apartment and prepared for a mission conference in the country. She wrapped her arms around her senior missionary companion’s neck.

“Do you think our family,” she asked him, “is strong enough to not be shaken with anything that can come our way?”

He smiled and tapped her hand reassuringly. “I think we’ll be fine,” he said.

The sweet sense of peace the Norbys shared that morning was tested severely a week later, on March 22, when a terrorist detonated a suicide bomb near Elder Norby and three other missionaries at the Delta checkout counter in the Brussels airport. The injuries were severe. Nails and jagged metal shredded Elder Norby’s neck, back, and legs, and second- and third-degree burns covered 35 percent of his body.

He tried to get up and run for safety, but fell. He tried again, but fell again. That’s when he realized his left leg and heel were broken. After he sat on the airport floor amid screaming, scared victims, doctors at a Brussels hospital placed him in a medically induced coma for several days. Once it was safe to revive him, doctors on both sides of the Atlantic continued for months to work to save his left leg.

More than four months later, and a week after Brother Norby thrilled his family and brought them to tears by taking his first unassisted steps since the attack, he and his wife count miracles and share the peace they find in the gospel of Jesus Christ with their five children, their children’s spouses, and their 16 grandchildren.

Richard Norby holds an x-ray that shows a broken bone in his leg and more than 20 pieces of shrapnel that remain in the leg while he talks about his recovery from the March terrorist attack on the Brussels airport at home in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 27, 2016. Norby was in Brussels serving a mission. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Richard Norby holds a photo of him in the hospital recovering from the March terrorist attack on the Brussels airport at home in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 27, 2016. Norby was in Brussels serving a mission. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Richard Norby gets emotional while talking about his recovery from the March terrorist attack on the Brussels airport at home in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 27, 2016. Norby was in Brussels serving a mission. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Richard Norby, who was injured in the Brussels bombing, talks after an appointment at the University of Utah's outpatient burn unit on Friday, July 29, 2016. Photo by Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News.

Richard Norby, who was injured in the Brussels bombing, talks during an appointment at the University of Utah's outpatient burn unit on Friday, July 29, 2016. Photo by Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News.

“We have been fine,” Sister Norby said. “Shaken for a moment, but fine. It’s one of those defining moments, where we can look back and know that things will be okay with what you know, with the testimony you have.”

Brother Norby has gathered his family to share his testimony, strengthened as a young missionary in the Franco-Belgian Mission in the 1960s. His mission president was Elder James Paramore, who while he was executive secretary to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles encouraged Brother Norby to become a seminary teacher. Brother Norby served more than 30 years in the Church Educational System as a seminary teacher, trainer, and administrator, when he shared the gospel with thousands of students. He also served as president of the Church’s Ivory Coast Abidjan Mission from 2003 to 2005.

“It’s not God’s fault,” he said to his family about the bombing after he had returned to the United States in April. “We don’t blame Him.”

Beyond aligning his will with the Lord’s, Brother Norby is determined to follow Jacob’s advice in the Book of Mormon about using his agency to choose the way he responds to what he and his wife call their “new normal,” a life with scars, a life in which their mission was cut short by a year, a life in which some things cannot ever be the same.

Some people ask him if life as the victim of a terrorist attack has made him fearful. They ask if he is scared to return to Belgium. That’s when he turns to Jacob’s counsel in 2 Nephi. He tells them he still is free to act and not to be acted upon. He has chosen to rely on the Lord and not fear.

“I’m not a victim,” he said. “I’m a survivor. Fear won’t stop me from going to Europe or an airport or accepting refugees. If we become more fearful, we’re being acted upon. I’m going to live my life, and I’m going to teach my children and grandchildren that we put our trust in God.”

He does have a new perspective. He can empathize with those whose loved ones have died in a terror attack and those who have survived one.

“I know what that feels like, to be in the hospital, to be burned and broken,” he said.

He considers the Brussels airport an Ebenezer, a sacred and holy place of remembrance where the Lord saved him and the three young missionaries with him: Sister Fanny Clain of Réunion Island, France; Elder Mason Wells of Sandy, Utah; and Elder Joseph Dresden Empey of Santa Clara, Utah.

Now living with Sister Norby in an apartment a block north of the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, he smiles throughout his frequent visits to doctors, quizzing nurses and assistants about their lives and work.

He wakes up each morning, he said, looking forward to simple things like breakfast and to the vast pleasure of more time with his wife and the rest of his family.

“How could it get better than what this is? I just love life,” he said. “I could not be happier than I am today.”

Richard Norby points to areas of his head that were burned while talking about his recovery from the March terrorist attack on the Brussels airport at home in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 27, 2016. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Pam Norby opens her husband's scriptures to some notes Richard Norby made before he was injured in the March terrorist attack on the Brussels airport while he was serving as a missionary, at home in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 27, 2016. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Pam Norby laughs as she and her husband recall some of the lighter moments of Richard Norby's recovery after he was badly wounded in the March terrorist attack on the Brussels airport at home in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 27, 2016. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Richard Norby talks about his recovery from the March terrorist attack on the Brussels airport at home in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 27, 2016. Norby was in Brussels serving a mission. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Richard Norby talks about his recovery from the March terrorist attack on the Brussels airport at home in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 27, 2016. Norby was in Brussels serving a mission. In addition to shrapnel wounds and burns, Norby lost a significant amount of soft tissue on his left leg and broke it in two places. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Richard Norby takes a few steps without his walker while recovering from the March terrorist attack on the Brussels airport at home in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 27, 2016. Norby was in Brussels serving a mission. In addition to shrapnel wounds and burns, Norby lost a significant amount of soft tissue on his left leg and broke it in two places. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Pam Norby opens her husband Richard Norby's scriptures to some of his notes made that reassured her as she read them before bed the night he was injured in the March terrorist attack on the Brussels airport while he was serving as a missionary, at home in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 27, 2016. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Richard Norby uses a walker at home in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 27, 2016, while recovering from the March terrorist attack on the Brussels airport. Norby was in Brussels serving a mission. In addition to shrapnel wounds and burns, Norby lost a significant amount of soft tissue on his left leg and broke it in two places. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Pam Norby picks up a piece of shrapnel that surgeons removed from her husband Richard Norby's leg during his long recovery from the March terrorist attack on the Brussels airport at home in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 27, 2016. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Richard Norby talks about his recovery from the March terrorist attack on the Brussels airport at his apartment in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 27, 2016. Norby was in Brussels serving a mission. In addition to shrapnel wounds and burns, Norby lost a significant amount of soft tissue on his left leg and broke it in two places. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Pam Norby, left, listens as her husband, Richard Norby, talks with health care assistant Maddi Olsen and physician's assistant Crystal Webb during an appointment at the University of Utah's outpatient burn unit on Friday, July 29, 2016. Photo by Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News.

Brussels bombing victim Richard Norby talks with health care assistant Maddi Olsen as he attends an appointment at the University of Utah's outpatient burn unit in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 29, 2016. Photo by Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News.

Pam Norby helps put on a shoe as her husband Richard Norby is attended to by health care assistant Maddi Olsen at the University of Utah's outpatient burn unit on Friday, July 29, 2016. Photo by Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News.

Health care assistant Maddi Olsen rewraps Brussels bombing victim Richard Norby's foot and leg as he attends an appointment at the University of Utah's outpatient burn unit in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 29, 2016. Photo by Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News.

Richard Norby and his wife, Pam Norby, talk with staff after their appointment at the University of Utah's outpatient burn unit on Friday, July 29, 2016. Photo by Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News.

Health care assistant Maddi Olsen hugs Pam Norby after an appointment for Brussels bombing victim Richard Norby at the University of Utah's outpatient burn unit in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 29, 2016. Photo by Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News.

Burn Center director Dr. Stephen Morris and physician's assistant Crystal Webb take a look at Richard Norby's foot and leg at the University of Utah's outpatient burn unit on Friday, July 29, 2016. Photo by Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News.

Pam Norby touches her husband Richard's feet during an appointment at the University of Utah's outpatient burn unit on Friday, July 29, 2016. Photo by Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News.

Pam Norby lends a hand as her husband, Richard Norby, is attended to by health care assistant Maddi Olsen at the University of Utah's outpatient burn unit on Friday, July 29, 2016. Photo by Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News.

Richard Norby's shows his hands as he recovers in the hospital following a bombing in Brussels, Belgium. Photo courtesy of the Norby family.

Richard Norby smiles as he eats food in the hospital following a bombing in Brussels, Belgium. Photo courtesy of the Norby family.

Richard Norby poses for a photo as he recovers in the hospital following a bombing in Brussels, Belgium. Photo courtesy of the Norby family.

Richard Norby poses for a photo as he recovers in the hospital following a bombing in Brussels, Belgium. Photo courtesy of the Norby family.

Richard Norby recovers in the hospital following a bombing in Brussels, Belgium. Photo courtesy of the Norby family.

Richard Norby poses for a photo as he recovers following a bombing in Brussels, Belgium. Photo by Ravell Call.

Richard Norby recovers in the hospital following a bombing in Brussels, Belgium. Photo courtesy of the Norby family.

Richard Norby is greeted as he recovers in the hospital following a bombing in Brussels, Belgium. Photo courtesy of the Norby family.

Health care assistant Maddi Olsen looks at Brussels bombing victim Richard Norby's foot and leg as he attends an appointment at the University of Utah's outpatient burn unit in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 29, 2016. Photo by Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News.