American Student's Body Found in Jerusalem Forest
A young New Jersey man who was visiting Israel to study at a yeshiva and went missing shortly before Shabbat has been discovered dead in the Jerusalem Forest.
Aaron Sofer, 23, of Lakewood, N.J., was hiking in the forest on Friday when he disappeared. Search teams have been looking for him since 6 p.m. that day.
He was hiking with a friend, who says he lost sight of Sofer as the New Jersey man walked ahead of him down an incline. That was about noontime.
His parents flew to Israel and offered a 100,000 shekel reward for their son's return. The FBI was involved in the search because Sofer is an American citizen.
The Jerusalem Post reported that Sofer's body was found today by a United Hatzalah volunteer.
“Soon after beginning our search we came across a man’s body among the shrubbery that seemed to match the missing student’s description,” Yisrael Erlich, a United Hatzalah worker, told the paper. “We immediately notified the police via our phone app, and a large group of police and rapid-responders quickly appeared on the scene. I was not expecting the incident to end in such a horrific tragedy.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said in a statement that with the discovery of Sofer's body "our worst nightmare has come true."
"Ever since Aaron went missing, communities throughout the United States, Israel, and beyond gathered in worship on behalf of Aaron. During this period of mourning, I hope the Sofer family can be comforted with the knowledge that countless people, friends and strangers alike, prayed for Aaron's well being and those acts of devotion will only continue," Menendez said of his constituent. "It has become clear to me that everyone who knew Aaron saw tremendous promise in this young man who was committed to his family, his Jewish faith and his community of Lakewood."
"I understand a full, complete, and thorough investigation is underway. Throughout this process, I stand ready to assist in every way possible and Aaron's family will have no greater advocate working on their behalf."
Sofer is the constituent of Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who early this week wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking that the U.S. government do all it could to help locate the New Jersey man.
“He may have been lost or injured and unable to return without assistance. It is also possible that he may have been kidnapped,” Smith wrote.
The kidnapping and murder of three Yeshiva boys – Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16 — from the kibbutz Kfar Etzion in the West Bank sparked the current Israeli offensive on Hamas. Naftali was a dual citizen with an American passport.
Hamas admitted just last week that it was their "heroic operation" that killed the three boys. Israel and Hamas agreed to an open-ended ceasefire that began Tuesday evening.
Smith stressed to Kerry that “it is in the interest of the United States Government to find out what happened to this American citizen.”
In response to his letter, Kerry’s chief of staff David Wade “assured” the congressman that the department “was totally committed to assisting Aharon and his family.”
Aaron's father, Moshe, told reporters Tuesday that "the police are working tirelessly on all fronts, and all options are being strongly investigated."
Neither the White House nor State Department has publicly mentioned Sofer since he went missing Friday.