Less than 48 hours after being reported missing Friday evening in the Jerusalem Forest, helicopters, canines and hundreds of police officers and volunteers are scouring the area to search for 23-year-old American yeshiva student Aaron Sofer.
According to police, Sofer, who is haredi and from Lakewood, New Jersey, had been hiking in the Beit Zayit area of the woods with a friend Friday morning when they reportedly became separated while navigating a steep incline.
Concerned after not finding Sofer several hours later, the unidentified friend contacted police to file a missing person’s report, which has led to the intensive manhunt, as well as Sofer’s parents flying to Israel on Sunday to aid in the growing search.
Asked if police suspect the Torah Academy student’s disappearance may be terrorist related, national spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said “all directions are being looked into.”
“It’s not clear yet as to what has happened,” he said. “In the meantime, police have set up a command center at the foot of the forest to aid in the search.”
Emergency response and rescue organizations, ZAKA and United Hatzalah, have also joined the manhunt in the woods since Shabbat. Additionally, surrounding neighborhoods, including Ein Kerem and Bayit Vegan, are being searched.
Police describe Sofer as approximately 5 feet 9 inches tall, slender, with a close-cropped red beard, wearing glasses, a white shirt, yalmuka and black trousers at the time of his disappearance.
The Jerusalem Forest made international headlines last month after the badly burned corpse of Muhammad Abu Khdeir was found there following an alleged revenge murder for the three yeshiva students murdered by Hamas operatives in June.
Police have requested that anyone with information that may assist in locating Sofer call 02-5391520, or the Israel Police hotline at 100.