Police: Body found in Israeli forest is missing American hiker

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Story highlights

  • New Jersey official says death of Aaron Sofer, 23, may have been accidental
  • Search for missing American in Israel ends with discovery of his body in Jerusalem-area forest
  • The Yeshiva student was reported missing last Friday while hiking, police say

A body found in a Jerusalem-area forest is that of missing American Aaron Sofer, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Thursday.

Forensics investigators were working to determine the cause of death, Rosenfeld said.

Sofer, 23, was reported missing Friday by a friend who was hiking with him. The young man was a Yeshiva student, studying in Israel.

Meir Lichtenstein, a Lakewood, New Jersey, committeeman who is a friend of Sofer's family, told reporters that though the investigation was continuing, the family believes that death was accidental and no foul play was suspected.

"There is some closure to the fact that this may very well have been an accidental death as opposed to their son being abducted," he said.

Lichtenstein said Sofer was "not the most experienced hiker" and may have suffered an "accident related to his walking in a rough terrain."

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"I say that with caution because the investigation is still ongoing," he said.

    Family joined search

    On Monday, Sofer's father, Moshe Zvi Sofer, joined police and hundreds of volunteers searching the forest outside Jerusalem where his son disappeared.

    Moshe Zvi Sofer traveled to Israel with his wife from their home in Lakewood and the couple offered a 100,000 shekel (about $28,000) reward for whoever found their son, Sofer's father said in a video posted online.

    Sofer's friend lost contact with him as they walked together. The friend reported the disappearance to authorities, Rosenfeld said earlier this week.

    "It is not clear if the disappearance was personal (or a) kidnapping," Rosenfeld said. "It's not clear at all."

    Lichtenstein said Sofer's family "very strongly supports Aaron's friend and believes that he had absolutely nothing to do with this and that it was an accident."

    Sofer will be buried in Israel, Lichtenstein said, and shiva will be observed in New Jersey.

    Sofer's disappearance came two months after what Israeli authorities have called the revenge killing of Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khedair, 16.

    His body was found in the Jerusalem Forest on July 2, just miles from where Sofer went missing.

    Two minors and an adult were indicted in the killing. Prosecutors allege the killing was retaliation for the deaths of three Israeli teens whose bodies were found in the West Bank in June. One of those Israeli teens also had American citizenship.