A body found on the outskirts of an Israeli forest has been identified as that of a New Jersey student who went missing nearly a week ago, police sources say. The remains were confirmed by his parents, sources say, who were holding out hope that the man was still alive.
The body of 23-year-old Aharon Sofer was discovered around 3:30 p.m. Israeli time on Thursday just a few kilometers from where the Lakewood, New Jersey, man was last seen while hiking with a friend in the Jerusalem forest.
There were no reasons to believe foul play was involved after the body was found, officials said. They believe the man may have slipped and fell while navigating difficult terrain.
The discovery came a day after emotional pleas from Sofer's family as they prayed for his safe return. Chulda and Moshe Sofer had flown from the U.S. to Israel over the weekend to join the search for their son.
"We believe he is still alive and out there," his mother, Chulda Sofer, said from Jerusalem after being briefed there by police.
"And if everyone could think of him as their own," she said, "we really beg everyone, and we plead with everyone, if anyone knows any lead to where Aaron is, if you could please contact the police immediately."
Sofer, who is one of 10 children, grew up in an ultra-Orthodox family in the Ocean County, New Jersey, town. He went to Jerusalem to study and was between semesters on Friday when he went hiking with a friend in the woods. The two got separated, and Sofer hadn't been seen since.
Former Lakewood Mayor Meir Lichtenstein said Sofer wasn't an experienced hiker.
"He actually called his mother and asked her permission," he said.
There were fears the yeshiva student may have been abducted due to the Israeli war in Gaza. But no group ever took credit for the disappearance.
As dictated by the Jewish faith, Sofer's body must be laid to rest within 24 hours. A family friend says the burial will take place at 9:30 a.m. Israeli time on Friday.
Audio from the service will be fed back to New Jersey so family members at home can take part.