Body of Missing U.S. Student Found in Jerusalem Forest

The 23-year-old Jewish seminary student from New Jersey, Aaron Soffer, disappeared last week, police say there was no indication of foul play.

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Volunteers take part in the search for missing New Jersey native Aaron Soffer, 23, in the Jerusalem forest August 28, 2014.
Volunteers take part in the search for missing New Jersey native Aaron Soffer, 23, in the Jerusalem forest August 28, 2014. Credit: Reuters

Israeli police said Thursday they have found the body of an American seminary student who disappeared while hiking in Jerusalem last week, adding that the youth's death was apparently not a result of a crime.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the body was found in the same area where Aaron Soffer disappeared. Soffer, 23, of Lakewood, New Jersey, had been hiking with a friend in a hilly, forested area on the outskirts of Jerusalem. 

In a statement issued by the police spokesman's office, the police said that the forensic team was able to identify Aaron Soffer's body and that apparently no foul play was involved in his death.

Police conducted an extensive search for Soffer, an ultra-Orthodox student at a yeshiva — a Jewish religious school named for its founder, Rabbi Tzvi Kaplan. Soffer's parents flew to Israel to assist with the search.

In June, three Israeli seminary students, all teenagers, were kidnapped while hitch-hiking in the West Bank, some 30 km south of Jerusalem, and later found dead.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas later acknowledged responsibility for the killings, which helped precipitate seven weeks of war between militants in Gaza and Israel that ended with an open-ended cease-fire on Tuesday.

Rosenfeld said police - including canine units, mounted officers and helicopters - were combing the entire Jerusalem forest, which spans 310 acres (125 hectares) at the outskirts of the city, along with volunteers for Soffer.

The student's family has flown to Israel to be in contact with authorities. His brother Yoel said Soffer had gone out for a day-long hike during a study break.

"He came to take a little walk. He had his shoes, his hat and jacket, he just needed a little fresh air," the brother said. "We just want him back. Whatever anyone can do to get him back. Please pray for him."

The area where the body was found in the Jerusalem Forest, August 28, 2014. Credit: Emil Salman
Aaron Soffer, 23-year-old yeshiva student missing in Jerusalem.Credit: Screenshot from Yeshiva World

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