Trail of Bible pages found in search for Dromore man missing in Israel

Friends of Oliver McAfee lost contact with him in November
Friends of Oliver McAfee lost contact with him in November

A man from Co Down who went missing in an Israeli desert left a trail of Bible pages and may be suffering from ‘Jerusalem Syndrome’ it has been reported.

Oliver McAfee, 29, was on a cycling trip in Israel but friends became worried when they lost contact with him in November and contacted the authorities.

The gardener, who lived in Essex but was from Dromore, had been cycling on the Israel National Trail near the city of Mitzpe Ramon.

His wallet, keys and a tablet computer were found on the trail and handed in to police, prompting the search.

It was initially thought that Mr McAfee, a devout Christian, got lost while following a cycling path. However, recent clues have led Israeli authorities to consider other possibilities.

Daily Telegraph Middle East correspondent, Raf Sanchez, said Mr McAfee left behind “a strange trail of torn out Bible pages and authorities think he may be suffering from Jerusalem Syndrome”.

Jerusalem Syndrome is a condition which can affect visitors who have shown no previous signs of mental illness and usually resolves upon departure from Israel.

Israeli police tried to find patterns in the Bible pages left behind in the desert but so far have come up with nothing, Mr Sanchez said.

An Israeli police search team discovered a series of pages ripped from the Bible carefully weighed down with rocks in the area that he was last seen.

Other handwritten notes quoting Bible verses were also discovered.

Some of the notes included references to the story of Jesus fasting in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights.

Investigators also found what they described as a “chapel” apparently made by Mr McAfee on top of rocky desert ridge outside the town of Mitzpe Tamon.

He cleared a circle shaped area of stones and carefully used a bicycle tool to flatten out the sand, Mr Sanchez said.

Mr McAfee’s supporters and brother did not offer any comment on the news but reposted news paper links from various media which described the trail of pages.

Raz Arbel, the leader of the volunteer search team, told the Daily Telegraph: “He [Oliver] seems to have been doing all kinds of ceremonies that we don’t really understand.”

Dr Moshe Kalian, the former district psychiatrist for Jerusalem and an expert on ‘Jerusalem Syndrome’, said that though he had never met Mr McAfee, the reports suggested that he was involved in “some kind of religious experience in the desert” that sounded like the syndrome.

The condition sees people suffer from religiously themed delusions or psychosis triggered by a visit to Jerusalem.

Each year, around 50 tourists are reported to experience it.

Police initially thought Oliver McAfee had got lost while cycling across the desert, but recent discoveries indicate the 29-year-old may have retreated into the wilderness deliberately.

“I know Ollie through our local church in Chelmsford, Essex,” his friend Josephine Fletcher told the News Letter previously. “I have known him for around seven years.

“He is very shy, very creative, very generous and a deep thinker. He is always keen to help people out.”