About a week after New Year’s Day in 2014, longtime Wall Street Journal reporter David Bird had just finished helping his family take down Christmas decorations in their New Jersey home. A rainstorm was rolling in, and he wanted to get in a quick walk before the deluge, so he zipped up his red raincoat and headed out.
He never returned — and though his body has now been found, no one has said what happened to him.
Following an unsuccessful search by local law enforcement and state and federal investigators over the past 14 months, two men canoeing Wednesday spotted a red raincoat in some branches near New Jersey’s Passaic River, more than a mile from Bird’s house. Then police found a body. Authorities announced Thursday the body had been identified as Bird, who was 55 when he disappeared. The match was made using dental records, though the medical examiner has not yet determined a cause of death.
“David Bird was a long-standing and valued member of the Dow Jones newsroom, and we are deeply saddened to learn today of his death,” editor in chief Gerard Baker said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.”
Raised with five older siblings in Trenton, N.J., Bird graduated from Rider College and later joined the Wall Street Journal’s publisher, Dow Jones & Co., where he most recently covered energy markets, Baker said in an internal e-mail.
Eventually, Bird was named deputy managing editor of the Dow Jones Energy Service.
“David was among the most respected energy journalists anywhere — a must-read for energy-market professionals, known as an acute observer and commentator on the global oil market who was devoted to his beat and generous with his colleagues,” Baker wrote Thursday. “He was instrumental in the expansion of energy coverage at Dow Jones in the 1990s, leading its coverage of OPEC and energy markets and building a team regarded as among the best in the business. He later launched a highly regarded column on the topic.”
In his downtime, Bird was a hiker, cyclist and marathoner. He ran the New York City Marathon in 2013. He liked listening to reggae tunes and watching Boston Red Sox games. And he was a devoted Boy Scout troop leader.
A decade ago, he hit an unexpected challenge — and, by all appearances, won.
In 2004, he found out he had a severe form of hepatitis that, doctors thought, he had contracted during a business trip in Beirut. He needed a new liver. He became extremely ill and shot to the top of the donor list. Then on Dec. 19, 2004, his wife, Nancy, wrote a message from the New York University Medical Center on Bird’s blog, which is still called SaveDavid.org: “Our Christmas miracle is happening today. David is getting his liver today. Please keep your prayers alive for a smooth operation and speedy recovering.”
On Dec. 30, Bird went home and went right back to his keyboard.
“Nancy and I got home around 3:30 PM to find that neighborhood elves had strung yellow ribbons and ‘Welcome home, Dad’ balloons all around the front of the house,” he wrote on his blog. “We celebrated in relaxing style — with a roaring fire in the fireplace, Pizza Mill pizza and sparkling cider and a cocktail of 14 different meds. Looking forward to tomorrow when the final neck bandage comes off and I can shave my face, so I don’t resemble a just out of his spider hole Saddam.”
He talked about how excited he was “strolling into a warm 2005″ and spending time with his family.
“Tasha introduced me to her new bug and butterfly collection while Alex showed what a true Jedi he has become with his one-sided green light sabre,” he wrote about his children. “The song on loop in my head today continues to be Oh Happy Day, by the Edwin Hawkins singers. It will take a while to pry that one loose — May the Force Be With You.”
On Jan. 11, 2014, Bird left his home near Long Hill Township, about 30 miles from New York City. His family assumed he had headed toward Hicks Tract, a wooded area close to home where he liked to walk. He didn’t take his cellphone with him. And he didn’t have medication that, following his liver transplant, he was required to take twice a day. His wife feared he would become ill without it.
“I knew this wasn’t right. Something was wrong,” she told the Wall Street Journal at the time. “He’s a really great dad and a really great husband.”
Hundreds came together to search for him. Police helicopters roared overhead. People on horses and ATVs roamed the woods. Divers scoured the Passaic River.
There seemed to be no clues. Nothing turned up. “We’re just befuddled by how little we have to go on,” Long Hill Police Chief Michael Mazzeo told the newspaper.
Investigators pored over his financial records, including his credit-card purchases and bank account activity. They went through his computer and cellphone logs to determine where he might have gone. At the time, an unnamed source told NBC News that Bird’s credit card was used in Mexico just days after his disappearance, but police have since downplayed the rumors.
Eventually, severe rain and snow stopped the ground search. Then, in late March of last year, authorities returned to the scene — with little success.
Over the summer, a $10,000 reward was offered for information that might help investigators find him. Nancy Bird told reporters that Dow Jones put up the reward money, though the company didn’t disclose how much it provided.
“We’ve had nothing to send this [investigation] in one direction or another,” police department spokesman Lt. Ahmed Naga told the Wall Street Journal earlier this year. He urged anyone with information to speak up “whether they feel it is significant or not.”
On the one-year anniversary of Bird’s disappearance, hundreds in the community gathered for a fundraiser and a candlelight walk. Nancy Bird told the newspaper she still takes the same path he took the day he left their home forever.
“And every time, I continue to look for David,” she said.
It wasn’t until this week she learned what she had feared the most.
“The Bird family would like to thank the many members of law enforcement, especially Chief Michael Mazzeo and the Long Hill Township Police Department, for their tireless efforts to find David,” a family spokesman said in a statement posted on a site created to help in Bird’s search. “They would also like to thank the countless friends, neighbors and strangers who have prayed for David and for the family over the past 14 months.”
He is survived by his wife and two teenage children, Alex and Natasha.
“On behalf of everyone at Dow Jones, I want to extend our deepest condolences to his wife, Nancy, and their two children, Alex and Natasha, who have borne the unknowing of the last year with such grace and dedication, and how have now been so tragically bereaved,” Baker wrote in his e-mail. “Please remember them in your thoughts and prayers.”