Subscribe

The U.S. military has confirmed that a body found in the Euphrates River on Wednesday is one of three American soldiers captured in a May 12 ambush near Baghdad.

Pfc. Joseph Anzack Jr., a 20-year-old from Torrance, Calif., was identified by one of his commanding officers late Wednesday, officials said. His family was told of the news just hours later.

“They told us, ‘We’re sorry to inform you the body we found has been identified as Joe,’” Anzack’s aunt, Debbie Anzack, told The Associated Press. “I’m in disbelief.”

Military officials said a full-scale search operation — which includes more than 4,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops — continued for Spc. Alex Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass., and Pvt. Byron Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich. Four other soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter were killed in the attack, responsibility for which was later claimed by a group associated with al-Qaida in Iraq.

Soldiers in the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division said the news brought closure for one family, but that the search for the two missing troops remained their focus.

“We can’t leave them behind. I just hope that they have enough faith to keep them going. What they’re going through right now, I can’t imagine,” Pfc. Sammy Rhodes, 25, of Albuquerque, N.M., was quoted as telling CBS News.

A U.S. military spokeswoman in Baghdad on Thursday denied earlier reports that a second body of a U.S. soldier had been found.

Anzack’s body was recovered near Musayyib, some 40 miles south of Baghdad. Iraqi police officials said Wednesday the body partially clothed in a U.S. military uniform, showed bullet wounds, possible signs of torture and had a distinctive tattoo on one arm.

“Some people from our town — and I was with them — dragged the body from the river,” Ali Abbas al-Fatlawi, a resident of Musayyib, told the New York Times. “We saw the head riddled with bullets, and shots in the left side of the abdomen. His hands were not tied, and he was not blindfolded.”

The news of Anzack’s body being recovered ended a long and painful month for his family. Several weeks before the abduction, the family had endured a false report that their son had been killed in combat. After his father called the Red Cross seeking information, military officials got their son to a phone, from which he called and informed them everything was fine.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up