Take a COVID Test or Jump Into the Sea. They Jumped

'NYT' explores the story of missing Americans Isaac Danian and Shukree Abdul-Rashed
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 10, 2022 6:30 AM CST
Conspiracy Fears Led Them to Sea, Where They Vanished
Stock photo.   (Getty/bildfokus)

By the account of the captain of their sailboat, Americans Isaac Danian and Shukree Abdul-Rashed jumped from the boat as they neared the Pacific island of Wallis. A monthslong inquiry by authorities concluded that the captain was telling the truth and that both men were swept out to sea and drowned. As David Wolman reports in a lengthy piece for the New York Times, the strange events unfolded in November 2020—tellingly, amid the height of the pandemic. It seems that both men (Isaac was 20 at the time, Abdul-Rashed 26) had spiraled into dark conspiracy theories about the pandemic, becoming convinced it was a government ruse guided by Satan to gain control of people. It had gotten to the point where the men apparently feared that even taking a COVID test (which was going to happen when the boat docked) would put them in the grip of Satan.

Wolman unpacks all of this, a tale in which they became followers online of a man who went by Matthew Mellow in Hawaii, and embarked with him on a South Pacific journey to escape the world. Mellow, who was sailing in a separate boat, is interviewed for the story. "If you write that I'm crazy, I'll lose a lot of faith in humanity," he tells Wolman. The men's bodies have never been found. Danian's family clings to hope he's alive, via this website. And the wife of Abdul-Rashed (who'd been a chemistry doctoral student at the University of Rochester before vanishing) says: "I just wanted to let you know Shukree wasn't crazy. ... He was a good, charming, loving person. I want that to be known, so he knows he was loved." After a pause, she adds: "In case he ever reads this." (Read the full, interactive story.)

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