Police Find Body of U.S. Teen Dana Bennett, Missing 6 Years

Police have found the remains of Dana Bennett, an American-Israeli teenager who vanished without a trace nearly six years ago.

Bennett, 18 at the time, disappeared shortly after midnight on August 1, 2003, after finishing her shift at a restaurant on the Tiberias boardwalk. She took a cab to her aunt's home in Tiberias and was last seen crossing the street in the direction of her aunt's house later that night.

The police announced yesterday that they found her body a few days ago. However, a gag order has been placed on any other information about the case.

After Bennett was reported missing, hundreds of policemen and volunteers launched a massive search of the area, but found no trace of her, and the search was called off after two weeks. Because Bennett was an American citizen, the FBI cooperated in the search as well.

The search concentrated on the area north of Tiberias, near the town of Migdal. Apparently, her cellular phone had been in that area a few hours after she disappeared.

Bennett's mother, Vicky Bennett, thanked the police yesterday, saying they had worked around the clock with true dedication.

"I don't like the phrase 'as if the earth swallowed her up,'" Vicky Bennett told Haaretz four years after Dana went missing. "After all, it is clear that is not true. She is somewhere, and I need to know where. My life moves between days of hope and days of despair. This uncertainty is nerve-racking, all the time."

In January 2005, a message was sent to Agence France-Presse by a group calling itself the "Galilee Freedom Fighters," which claimed that it was holding Bennett. The note demanded that the Israeli government release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in order to receive a sign of life from Bennett. However, the group failed to release any proof that it was holding Bennett, and this led to doubts that they were involved in her disappearance.

Tiberias Mayor Zohar Oved told Haaretz yesterday that the funeral will almost certainly be held on Thursday in Tiberias. "This is a painful and tragic story," he said. "We wanted to believe that Dana was still alive, but now, after the situation has become clear, there is a type of closure."

Bennett was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1985. Her parents divorced when she was five years old and her mother returned to Tiberias, so Bennett was raised by her father in Los Angeles. Later, however, her father sent her to high school at Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi.

In the last years of her life, Bennett developed a neurological problem that caused her to black out for short periods of time. She would come to with no recollection of what had occurred during those moments.

Over time, the blackouts worsened, becoming longer and more frequent. In March 2003, she underwent a complicated, eight-hour surgery to repair the problem. She made a speedy recovery, but was prescribed pills by her doctor that she was required to take twice a day in order to prevent her blackouts from returning.

Over the years, the police interrogated several people about Bennett's disappearance, but never found any leads in the case. In addition, three months after she disappeared, the family hired a private investigator, who was paid for by the Jewish community of Los Angeles, where her father lives.

Police reopened their search of the area several times. They set up a special investigative team for the case, which explored both criminal and terrorist motives for her disappearance. They also looked into all other cases of unsolved murders or disappearances in the north. However, none of this was to any avail - until now.

4,000 missing every year

Every year, the police handle about 4,000 reports of missing persons, almost half of whom are youths. Most of the missing are found within a month.

From the founding of the state through the end of 2006, there have been about 600 missing persons who were never found. Some of these left behind documents indicating that they committed suicide, but their bodies were never found. Others simply disappeared off the face of the earth.

Four of the missing in recent years have received wide media exposure: Majdi Halabi, a soldier who disappeared in May 2005; Guy Hever, a soldier who has been missing for almost 13 years; Adi Yaakobi, who was 17 when she disappeared 13 years ago in Tel Aviv; and Alexandra (Sasha) Brandt, 10, who disappeared in 1994 in Ramat Gan.