Shortly after his 20th birthday, Isaac Danian disappeared from his home in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in early September 2020, leaving a note for his younger siblings warning them “don’t get vaccinated” or “you won’t make it to heaven.”
His parents, Abigail and John Danian, told CNN that their son had become paranoid during the pandemic. They say that he began to believe that the covid-19 vaccine was the government’s way of controlling the population, and that the covid test was just as dangerous. Before leaving home, his parents say, their son told them to sell all their belongings and move into a bunker.
Nearly a month after she went missing, on October 4, 2020, Isaac Danian texted a photo of himself on a boat with a giant fish he had caught.
The family has not heard from him since.
“He called me to say he was going to be out of the network for about 30 days and he wanted to make sure he called me and let me know. To not spend those 30 days worrying about him,” her mother told CNN. Isaac did not say where he was going or who he was with.
“He said…it would be better if he didn’t,” said Abigail Danian, “but he always said he wishes he could tell you.”
Isaac’s parents were unaware at the time that before their son left, he had started following an alleged guru named Matthew Mellow, who went by Mortekai Eleazar, online on social media. On his YouTube channel, Mellow spread misinformation about covid-19, lecturing about what he says was Satan’s plan to destroy society and false claims about the covid-19 vaccine, which he called the ” mark of the beast.”
Mellow had posted a recruiting video online, seeking “men without disabilities” to sail with him from Hawaii. to the South Pacific where the Covid had not taken hold. In the video of him he suggested that society was doomed.
Isaac Danian signed up for the trip and left home Labor Day weekend 2020 while his parents were out of town.
It was only when his parents filed a missing persons report seven months later that an investigator with the Kent County Sheriff’s Office in Michigan informed them that their son had been in communication with Mellow.
“This clown guru convinced them to fly to Hawaii and join him on this journey across a large part of the Pacific Ocean to find a covid-free place where they could start over and escape Satan’s grand plan,” the author said. and journalist David Wolman, who first investigated this case for The New York Times, told CNN.
It turns out that Mellow had arranged for a couple of ship captains to take him and his recruits to the South Pacific. Danian and a second man, Shukree Abdul-Rashed, of Rochester, New York, would go on Captain Mike Schmidt’s ship, while Mellow left days later on another ship with a different captain.
“Actually, these two had a great time, they caught a lot of fish,” Schmidt told CNN. At times, Schmidt says, the weather was challenging and the seas dangerous.
“One storm I actually broke my nose on the steering wheel. The boat was picked up in the middle of the night and it broke my nose. So we had a few problems, but most of the time we were sailing we were fishing, barbecuing, beautiful weather.”
Schmidt told CNN that they headed to the Cook Islands first, but it turned out that the entrance was closed due to the pandemic. Given the uncertain weather, he says he turned the boat towards American Samoa, but when they found out they had to get a Covid test to get in, he says, his two passengers panicked and threatened to jump off the boat.
Schmidt says he decided to head about 300 nautical miles away to Wallis Island, a French territory between Hawaii and New Zealand. It was then that the trip took a dark turn. After Schmidt alerted authorities to his arrival so they could anchor his boat, he told CNN, Danian and Abdul-Rashed suddenly jumped overboard.
“The reason they jumped in is because they don’t want to be in the boat. They want to get away from taking this Covid PCR test. They were scared to get tested for covid as it was now the mark of the beast, they had gotten involved with the guru,” Schmidt said.
As soon as the men jumped, Schmidt told CNN he alerted Wallis Island authorities to help him and flagged down a fishing boat to search. He said Danian’s plan was to “go into oblivion with Abdul-Rashed and Matt Mellow and ride to the end of the world. The three of them… with no ties whatsoever to the United States.”
According to Wolman, the journalist, “They had been duped by a would-be guru of the Instagram-era prophet who spoke the right way to attract these two young men.” Wolman called it “the witches’ brew of the Covid conspiracy, end-times prophecy, Christian fundamentalism meets 2020 election stress and turmoil.”
Mellow did not respond to CNN’s numerous requests for comment. CNN has reached out to Abdul-Rashed’s family for comment.
According to a French police report obtained by CNN, Schmidt was questioned and authorities seized his 9mm pistol, laptop and Garmin GPS device from the boat. Schmidt was ultimately cleared in the investigation.
“I never did anything to harm them,” Schmidt told CNN.
At that time, dive teams searched the area for the men, but found nothing.
In addition to the missing persons report they filed, Danian’s parents have asked the State Department and French authorities for help. But there have been many challenges along the way.
“The problem is that it is not only so far away, but it is international. There is a language barrier. We are dealing with the French judicial system,” John Danian told CNN. “It was in the water, and it was a maritime type of incident, so there are a lot of different agencies and authorities trying to coordinate this effort.”
More than two years later, Abigail and John Danian are no closer to finding their son.
“We are hopeful that he is alive because there has not been any evidence to the contrary,” Abigal Danian told CNN. “It is possible that he wanted to log off and is in a manic state, it is possible that he was kidnapped against his will. He may have drowned. If someone told him that his child probably died, would he accept it and move on? That’s not something we can do.”
Just last week, the Danians received a letter from the French authorities alerting them that they were officially closing the investigation into his disappearance. The Danes are considering appealing the findings.
“The only determination they could make was that both Isaac and Shukree had jumped into the ocean and no wreckage was found,” Abigail Danian told CNN. Meanwhile, the Kent County Sheriff’s Office said the missing persons investigation remains open. Isaac’s family says they have also been told by the State Department that there is some kind of “interagency investigation” underway, but they are not sure who is involved.
As for Mellow’s whereabouts, Wolman spoke to him several months after the men went missing. The two met on an island in French Polynesia where Wolman says Mellow lived with his mother.
“He printed this flyer with…every kind of religious extremism plus every Covid conspiracy keyword you can imagine, from 666 and the mark of the beast to the Illuminati, George Soros, Bill Gates and nanobots and it is…like this diarrhea talk of nonsense.” Wolfman said. “He is passing it on to people in a very poor part of the world by telling them or their children not to get vaccinated.”
Did Mellow take any responsibility for what happened to Isaac Danian and Shukree Abdul-Rashed?
“He doesn’t have any sense of responsibility for what happened to them,” Wolman said. “He refers to them as his brothers, saying that they died in the good grace of God.”
Wolman said Mellow told him: “These were my dear friends. I loved them. I cried myself to sleep for months after they left.”