May 12, 1998

05/12/98: Joshua Bender, 19, New York, NY

Joshua Bender, 19, was last seen about 8:30 p.m. on May 12, 1998 in his dorm room by his roommate. He told his roommate that he intended to meet classmates that night to study for his final exams in finance, which were just two days away.

Bender often went home on weekends, so when he didn't return, his roommate figured he had gone there to study for finals. On May 14, after Bender didn't show up for his finance course final, his dorm counselor became worried and called the teen's father.

His body was found in the Hudson River 12 days later.
On Sunday, May 24, 1998, Joshua's parents, Michael and Gitty Bender, were searching for him in Fort Tryon Park in upper Manhattan with hundreds of volunteers yesterday when word came that their son's body had been recovered a few hours earlier.

Joshua's body was spotted by two passersby at 5 a.m., floating in the waters of the Hudson River off W. 157th St., a desolate spot with Dumpsters and piles of stones,nearly two weeks after he disappeared. He still had his wallet, with $30. He was face down in the blue jeans, button-down plaid shirt and shoes he had been wearing when he vanished, along with his wallet and credit cards, the police said. An autopsy will not be performed for religious reasons, but x-rays and external examination turned up no signs of foul play or suicide.

The Search Effort
According to the NY Times, Bender's disappearance "prompted prayer vigils by students, set off frantic searches by the police on both sides of the Hudson, and seized the attention of Orthodox Jews in New York, across the country, in Israel and on the Internet. On Thursday, graduation day at the university, about 300 students, police officers and other volunteers searched the nearby Highbridge Park, overlooking the Harlem River, while others combed through Palisades Park, in New Jersey. Meanwhile, fliers seeking information were handed out by students across the city and as far away as Jerusalem, where Mr. Bender spent his freshman year studying Hebrew and the Talmud. His parents even offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to his discovery."

About Joshua Bender
Joshua loved bowling and pizza, he had an internship to work at Prudential Securities. "He was very happy," says his mother, Gitty Bender. Those who knew him said Mr. Bender was a devout Jew, a dedicated student, a tireless volunteer and mature beyond his years. ''They called him 'the natural,' '' his mother said. ''He had all these abilities.'' He was the kind who would shrink into the background rather than take credit, they said. Alone, he navigated the Internet; with friends, he bowled and went on skiing trips. His mother and one classmate said he was not the kind to party or to frequent bars.

He spent much of his time working with the Fair Lawn Volunteer Ambulance Corps, his mother said, ferrying people to the hospital or bringing meals to patients. ''This is the kind of extracurricular things Orthodox Jewish boys do,'' she said. Mrs. Bender said her son had chosen not to work with a Jewish ambulance corps because he wanted to help all people, not just his own. ''You know what the best part about him was?'' she said. ''IText Colort made no difference who you were, whether you were Jewish or not Jewish, black, white, pink or orange.''

''Joshie,'' as she called him, was studying finance at the university's Sy Syms School of Business. He had an internship lined up for this fall at Prudential Securities. This summer, Mrs. Bender said, she and her husband were encouraging their son to ''take it easy'' -- by signing up for a few classes at a New Jersey college rather than take a summer job.

Even his career ambitions had a righteous basis, Mrs. Bender said. At the family's Sabbath table two weeks ago, her son spoke up about his plans. ''All he wanted to do was become a big corporate financier,'' his mother said, ''and be able to give away a lot of money to charity.''

More to the Story?
Joshua Bender was the third drowing victim in a 15 month period (the others were Larry Andrews, Patrick McNeil). According to the NY Times, all were "white males, between 19 and 22 years old, medium build, clean cut, from stable backgrounds. Two were college students..... Three were found floating in city waterways with no apparent signs of trauma; the cause of death was ruled drowning. But how each entered the water has not been determined, and may never be known. (A fourth young man, Peter Caraguilo, was also found in a subway tunnel during this same period, with a fractured skull--the result of an apparent accidental fall.)

Chief Medical Examiner Charles Hirsch acknowledged: "We've left the manner of death undetermined, because we don't know if they accidentally fell, jumped or were pushed. "But I have no recollection of any homicide perpetrated by pushing someone into waters surrounding Manhattan island."

Deputy Inspector Robert Martin conceded that it is "a little unusual to have three males in the river, of that age bracket, within 15 months," but he said police have found no common denominator in the deaths. "Nothing is closed," Martin said, "and we will work on any information that develops."

"This boy was murdered," said Gitty Bender, Joshua's mother. "It wasn't an accident. Whether it's related to the others, I don't know."

Other Coincidences
Like Patrick McNeill, Joshua Bender volunteered with an Ambulance Corps. (Patrick McNeill volunteered for the Fordham Ambulance Corps while Bender volunteered for the Fairlawn NJ Volunteer Ambulance corps).

Facts of Interest in the Case
Name/age: Joshua Bender, 19 (sophomore, finance major)
College: Yeshiva University (W. 185th Street, NY)
Residence: Rubin Hall, 7th floor
Hometown: Fairlawn, NJ
Last seen: May 12, 1998 8:30 pm
Physical Decription: 6'1,"160-170 pounds, brown hair, clean cut, last seen wearing blue jeans and a button-down plaid shirt.
Recovered: Sunday, May 24, 1998, Hudson River


[Thanks go out to Erin Jessica for helping with this post.]

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