As people go in and out of the Lakewood Municipal Building Thursday in Lakewood, N.J., they pass a photograph of Aharon Sofer, the young New Jersey religious student who went missing during a hike in a forest outside Jerusalem last week. (Mel Evans / AP)
Jerusalem — Israeli forensic investigators on Friday identified a recently found body as that of a U.S. religious student who disappeared while hiking in Jerusalem last week, Israeli police said, adding that he had been buried near Jerusalem.
Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said the body was confirmed early on Friday morning to be that of seminary student Aharon Sofer.
“There is no suspicion of foul play,” Samri said by telephone, giving no further details on how he died. Israeli media speculated that he had fallen or died of dehydration. He was buried in the town of Beit Shemesh.
Sofer’s body was found Thursday night in the same area where he disappeared last week. The 23-year-old from Lakewood, New Jersey, had been hiking with a friend in a hilly, forested area on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
He was an ultra-Orthodox student at a yeshiva, a Jewish religious school, named for its founder Rabbi Tzvi Kaplan.
Sofer’s parents had flown to Israel to assist with the search in the days after their son disappeared.
“They’re overwhelmed. At the same time, there is some relief that Aharon has been found,” said Meir Lichtenstein, a committeeman in Lakewod Township, who was with Sofer’s family in New Jersey on Thursday.
Lichtenstein said that the community had held out hope that Sofer would be found, but his death ultimately brought the community together.
“The silver lining in the cloud is that Aharon’s disappearance and eventually death really united the community, brought a lot of good out in people. And there’s a lot of solace in that,” Lichtenstein said.
Lawmakers across the state offered condolences Thursday, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
“We add our thoughts and prayers to those of so many in New Jersey and around the world for this family and the community of Lakewood,” Christie said. “Together, we can help them deal with this awful tragedy.”