Hundreds brave Utah cold to view body of Mormon president as church begins 3 days of mourning

Photo provided to the Associated PressIn this photo released by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, church employees pay their respects to Gordon B. Hinckley, president of Mormon church on Thursday in Salt Lake City. Hinckley died Sunday. He was 97.

Photo provided to the Associated PressIn this photo released by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, church employees pay their respects to Gordon B. Hinckley, president of Mormon church on Thursday in Salt Lake City. Hinckley died Sunday. He was 97.

SALT LAKE CITY " A few hundred people waited in freezing temperatures Thursday to view the body of Gordon B. Hinckley as the Mormon church began three days of public mourning for its president.

Joined by two friends, Michelle McAllister got up at 4 a.m. and skipped classes at Weber State University to be first in line at the conference center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"We wanted to have this experience. He's been my prophet," said McAllister, 21, who was a child when Hinckley became head of the church in 1995.

Hinckley was the oldest president of the 13 million member church when he died Sunday at age 97.

His body was dressed in a white suit in an open casket in the church conference center's Hall of Prophets, where bronze busts of each church president line the walls.

From the elderly to mothers with children in their arms, mourners moved silently past both sides of the dark wood casket, which was surrounded by flowers. Some were stone-faced while others dabbed at tears.

Lisa Brown, 25, whispered to her 2-year-old daughter, Vanessa, as they passed by.

"She recognizes him as the prophet," said Brown, her eyes red from crying. "It's kind of a bittersweet day. Sweet for him, but sad for us."

Hinckley's eldest son, Richard, who runs the church missionary department, greeted people outside the hall, shaking hands and expressing gratitude for their prayers and condolences.

The Mormon church scheduled 20 hours of public viewing Thursday and Friday before a funeral Saturday. Officials were expecting tens of thousands of people over three days at the church's downtown world headquarters.

The funeral will be held in the church's 21,000-seat conference center, which was built during Hinckley's presidency to accommodate the growing church.

Burial will follow in a Salt Lake City cemetery, where Hinckley's wife, Marjorie Pay Hinckley, is buried. She died in 2004.

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