Missing American found dead in Jerusalem area forest, police say


An ultra-Orthodox Jewish volunteer takes part in a search for missing New Jersey native Aharon Sofer, 23, in the Jerusalem forest. (Baz Ratner/Reuters)

Aharon Sofer, a 23-year-old American missing since Friday in Israel, has been found dead in a forest near Jerusalem, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told CNN on Thursday.

“It is not clear if the disappearance was personal [or a] kidnapping,” Rosenfeld said. “It’s not clear at all.”

On Friday, Sofer’s friend reported that the yeshiva student had gone missing. Rosenfeld previously said that Sofer disappeared while hiking, the Associated Press has reported.

Sofer, who was from New Jersey, was in Israel to study. Hundreds of volunteers, along with his father and police, combed through the forest Monday in search of the young man.

Officials in Lakewood, N.J., where Sofer is from, held a press conference Thursday afternoon announcing that Sofer’s body had been found, The Star-Ledger reported. Township committeeman and Sofer family friend Meir Lichtenstein said “During the six days there was hope all along until his body was actually found,” the paper reported.

Lichtenstein added that the family has labeled Sofer’s death accidental until they are told otherwise by authorities in Israel.

Lakewood Deputy Mayor Albert Akerman told The Post that Sofer’s body had indeed been found on Thursday, which he confirmed with sources involved in the search. Much of the Sofer family lives in Lakewood. “It’s a very hard-working, pleasant, productive family,” Akerman said. “Everyone’s heartbroken for them. Everyone’s hurting for them.”

Investigators are still working to determine the cause of death, CNN reported.

“Today, we awoke to horrible news that the body of Aaron Sofer, A’H, was found,” Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind said in a statement. “All of us were hoping and praying that there would be a happy ending and that Aaron would be found safe.”

Hikind’s office confirmed Sofer’s death with the search team in Israel, a spokesman said.

Sofer’s body was discovered just miles from where Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khieder’s burned body was found July 2, in what Israeli authorities dubbed a “revenge killing.”

Rosenfeld tweeted earlier in the day that a body had been found in the forest and the area was closed off as forensics examined the scene.

[This post has been updated]

Elahe Izadi is a general assignment national reporter for The Washington Post. She can be reached at elahe.izadi@washpost.com and on Twitter @ElaheIzadi.
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