Body Found in Israel Forest Identified as New Jersey Student, 23, Missing Since Last Week: Official

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    NEWSLETTERS

    NBC 4 New York/Israeli State Police

    A body found on the outskirts of a forest in Israel has been identified as a 23-year-old religious student from New Jersey who vanished on a hike near there nearly a week ago, an official said.

    Meir Lichtenstein, township committeeman in Lakewood, where Aaron Sofer is from, said at a news briefing Thursday that a relative identified the remains found Thursday as Sofer's. He had been missing since Friday when he went on a hike with a friend in the Jerusalem Forest.

    The condition of the remains wasn't immediately clear, but Lichtenstein said early indications suggested there was no foul play involved in Sofer's death. 

    Gov. Christie offered his condolences to the Sofer family.

    "As parents, Mary Pat and I cannot imagine the sense of grief and sadness that engulfs them at this moment," Christie said in a statement. "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. Together, we can help them deal with this awful tragedy."

    Israeli police and investigators from the United States, along with the FBI, had been coordinating the effort to find Sofer, who had been studying at a rabbinical college in war-torn country for the last year. 

    Sofer is one of 10 children. The parents are a rabbi and a school office worker. Both flew to Israel over the weekend to assist in the search.

    Earlier this week, Sofer's family braced for the possibility he could have been a victim of the ongoing Gaza-Israeli conflict. The crisis between Israelis and Palestinians has spiked in recent weeks.

    Another teen with ties to Lakewood -- 16-year-old Naftaly Frenkel -- was kidnapped in the West Bank and killed this summer, along with two other Israeli teens. Frenkel's aunt lives in Lakewood, a community of about 100,000. The growing population of Orthodox Jews came together to support Frenkel's family.

    The kidnapping and killing of the three teens was one of the key factors leading to the summer conflict.

    Last month, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy, was kidnapped and killed in an alleged revenge attack. Abu Khdeir was beaten and burned to death in the same forest where Sofer is missing.

    -Ted Greenberg contributed to this report

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