(photo credit: COURTESY THE SOFER FAMILY)
An intensive six-day search scouring the Jerusalem Forrest and surrounding neighborhoods for missing American yeshiva student Aaron Sofer came to an end Thursday afternoon, when a United Hatzalah volunteer found the body of the New Jersey native. DNA tests confirmed his identity.
The 23-year-old was last seen in the Beit Zayit area of the forest on Friday morning last week, before he and a friend became separated while navigating a steep incline.
Concerned after not reuniting with Sofer several hours later, the friend contacted police to file a missing person’s report, resulting in a massive search involving police, United Hatzalah, ZAKA, helicopters, canine units, hundreds of volunteers and, because he was an American citizen, the FBI.
According to Yisrael Erlich, a United Hatzalah worker who was among the first on the scene Thursday, the body closely matched the description of the red-headed yeshiva student, who has spent the last year studying in Jerusalem.
“Soon after beginning our search we came across a man’s body among the shrubbery that seemed to match the missing student’s description,” said Erlich. “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.”
The discovery was announced at about 5 p.m., less than five hours before a planned press conference and prayer vigil at the Western Wall arranged by Sofer’s parents, Moshe and Chulda, who flew to Israel from Lakewood, New Jersey, to aid in the search.
Desperate to find their son, on Tuesday the couple offered a NIS 100,000 reward for information leading to his whereabouts.
Aaron had nine brothers and sisters, some of whom joined the search.
United Hatzalah head Eli Beer thanked the hundreds of volunteers who searched night and day for nearly one week to find Sofer.
“We are very sorry about the tragic ending of the story,” he said. “We were hoping and praying for a positive end.”
US Senator Robert Menedez from Sofer's home state of New Jersey extended his sympathies over the death of the yeshiva student.
"With the heartbreaking news of the death of Aaron Sofer, our worst nightmare has come true. There are no adequate words to convey my personal condolences to the Sofer family and to the people of Lakewood for this terrible loss," Menendez lamented.
Sofer’s funeral will be held today, Friday, at 9:30 a.m at the Eretz Chaim Cemetery in Beit Shemesh, where he will be buried next to his grandfather.Jpost.com Staff contributed to this report.