Families in the United States and Israel continued to pray on Wednesday for their loved ones who were missing in the wake of the brutal Hamas assault that killed more than 1,000 people in Israel over the weekend, including 22 American citizens, according to U.S. officials.
The slain Americans included an “idealist” who saved her son from assailants’ bullets and a nurse from California who had moved to Israel to care for her parents.
White House officials said on Wednesday that at least 17 Americans remained unaccounted for in Israel, although it was not clear how many were being held hostage by Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls Gaza and carried out the attacks. “We have to steel ourselves for the very distinct possibility that these numbers will keep increasing,” said John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council.
President Biden pledged on Tuesday to put all efforts into finding and rescuing the missing. “I have no higher priority than the safety of Americans being held hostage around the world,” he said in a speech from the White House. Officials said they were in touch with the families of the missing and keeping them updated.
U.S. officials had not shared identities of the missing Americans, but based on media and family reports, they appeared to include dual citizens who were serving in the Israeli Army, as well as a mother and daughter from the Chicago area who were visiting family in Israel and a 23-year-old attending a music festival that came under attack from Hamas.
Here is what we know about them.
Nahar Neta fought back tears at a news conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, as he described being on the phone trying to calm his 66-year-old mother, Adrienne. She was born and raised in California and lived in a kibbutz near the border with Gaza.
His siblings were on the phone with her as attackers broke into her home in Be’eri, he said. They heard screaming, he added, and have not heard from her since.
Rachel Goldberg said she woke up on Saturday in Jerusalem to the sound of sirens warning of incoming rocket fire. Her 23-year-old son, Hersh Goldberg-Polin, was at a music festival near Gaza’s border. When she turned her phone on 10 minutes later, she saw two consecutive text messages from him that read “I love you” and “I’m sorry.”
Mrs. Goldberg — who moved with her family from California to Jerusalem in 2008 — has not heard from her son since. She said on Tuesday that the only thing the police could tell her was that his last known cellphone signal was near the border with Gaza.
Judith Raanan and Natalie Raanan
The mother and daughter from Evanston, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, were visiting relatives in Nahal Oz, a kibbutz less than a mile from the Israel-Gaza border. Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein, the executive director of Chabad of Evanston, said they had not been heard from since Saturday.
Natalie had recently graduated from high school, Rabbi Klein said. He described her mother as someone who could converse with a wide range of people, from older members of the congregation to younger students at Northwestern University.
“This was a woman that was full of hope,” Rabbi Klein said. “And I know she has a resilience to overcome her tormentors.”
Jonathan Dekel-Chen, a resident of the kibbutz Nir Oz, said he believed his 35-year-old son, Sagi, was being held captive “an arm-lengths away in Gaza, evidently, but couldn’t be farther from me and our family right now.” He said Sagi, who had tried to repel the attack on Saturday, was the father of two daughters and that his wife was pregnant with their third.
Mr. Dekel-Chen, who grew up in Connecticut, said that the kibbutz was “destroyed in a barbaric, inhumane attack in which dozens of my friends, my neighbors, were killed.”
Ruby Chen said his 19-year-old son, Itay, who was serving in the Israeli Army, had been missing since Saturday. He pleaded with President Biden and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken to “do what they can to make this end for us as soon as possible.”
Among the Slain
In her final moments, Deborah Martias, who was born in Missouri and whose father is a longtime professor at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, covered her teenage son with her own body to protect him, her relatives told several news outlets on Tuesday.
In the moments before she and her husband, Shlomi Martias, were killed by the assailants who burst into the family’s home, Ms. Martias was on the phone with her father, Ilan Troen, he recounted in a televised interview. Mr. Troen said that she heard glass breaking, gunshots and people speaking in Arabic.
Her 16-year-old son, Rotem, was shot in the stomach but survived, hiding until he could be rescued.
Mr. Troen described his daughter and son-in-law as “idealists.” They lived at Kibbutz Holit, a small community just over a mile from Gaza, and had sent their children to a school that taught both Hebrew and Arabic, he said, in the hope that better understanding between Jews and Arabs could “change the course of history here.”
A peace activist, Mr. Katsman was initially believed to have been taken hostage on Saturday but was later found killed in his home on Kibbutz Holit. He had studied conservative trends and radicalism within the Zionist religious community, played bass guitar and worked as a D.J. playing Arabic music.
He did gardening and landscaping at the kibbutz, said his mother, Hannah Wacholder Katsman, who described him as “very industrious and independent” in a text message. She said he was born in Israel but had acquired dual citizenship in the United States.
Mr. Katsman recently completed his doctorate at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he served as co-coordinator of a Israel-Palestine research group. His doctorate was titled, “Religious nationalism in Israel/Palestine.” It is unusual for Israelis to refer to the region in that way, rather than simply “Israel” or “Israel and the occupied territories.”
A nurse whom her family described as an “angel,” Daniel Ben-Senior, 34, was born in California but moved to Israel to help take care of her parents.
She was attending the music festival that was attacked by Hamas, and was originally considered among the missing. Israeli authorities told her family on Wednesday that she had been shot, said her cousin, Ran Ben-Senior, who lives in New York.
“It’s a nightmare,” he said.
Reporting was contributed by Peter Baker, Colbi Edmonds, Nadav Gavrielov and Hiba Yazbek. Kirsten Noyes contributed research.