On January 6, Michael Gelfand checked out of his room at the Magnolia hotel in New Orleans and texted his wife that he would be flying home to New Jersey from his overnight business trip. But Gelfand never made it back.
Nearly a week later, dozens of his friends and family traveled to New Orleans to search for him. “Michael wants to be found, Michael needs to be found, and Michael wants to be a part of that community,” search party organizer, Nathan Ginsbury, told New York’s WABC at the time. “He may right now have a struggle that we don’t understand — that he may not understand — but he wants to be a part of that community still.”
Gelfand’s friends and family filed a missing persons report with the New Orleans Police Department and offered a $10,000 reward for anyone who could lead them to their loved one, but the search was unsuccessful.
More than two months after the search began, on March 18, a bystander saw a body floating in the Mississippi River and reported it to authorities. A week later, the New Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office confirmed it belonged to Gelfand, WGNO ABC reported. Detectives are now working on figuring out how Gelfand died and how long he had been alive after he was supposed to fly home.
By checking credit card statements, Gelfand’s family and friends discovered that he had “spent several days buying groceries and going to bars,” strange behavior for someone who was supposedly on an overnight business trip. After the initial search got the public involved through handing out flyers, the friends and family of Gelfand asked for privacy after two weeks of no results. They would have to wait weeks longer before hearing the tragic news that Gelfand had died.
With the search for Gelfand ending, the mystery of what happened during those two months that he was missing got much bigger. Gelfand was a 33-year-old father of four and a beloved member of his Orthodox Jewish community in Jackson, New Jersey, according to nola.com.
The Yeshiva World wrote that Gelfand “was a loving husband and father who took tremendous pride in his family and was beloved by the Jackson community and all who were fortunate enough to know him. [Gelfand] took a special pride in being deeply involved in his shul and his children’s schools, often going out of his way to promote and advance the interests and needs of the tzibbur.”
While the tragic mystery surrounding Gelfand’s death still remains, Ginsbury thanked all those involved in the search, stating, “From ground searches to drone pilots, from jetski searches to scrutinizing aerial footage, from underwater sonar scans to chartered Cadaver dogs ‘no’ was not in your vocabulary.”