Soon after his 20th birthday, Isaac Danian disappeared from his home in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in early September 2020, leaving behind a note for his younger siblings that warned them “do not get the vaccine” or “you won’t make it to heaven.”
His parents, Abigail and John Danian, told CNN that their son had grown paranoid during the pandemic. They say he started 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 he left home, his parents say, their son told them to sell all their belongings and move into a bunker.
Nearly a month after he disappeared, on October 4, 2020, Isaac Danian sent a text message with a picture of himself on a boat holding a giant fish he’d caught.
The family hasn’t heard from him since.
“He called to tell me that he was going to be off the grid for about 30 or so days and he wanted to make sure to call me and let me know. So that I wouldn’t spend those 30 days worrying about him,” his 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,” Abigail Danian said, “but he always said I wish I could tell you.”
Isaac’s parents didn’t know at the time that before their son had left he had started following a so-called guru online named Matthew Mellow, who went by the name Mortekai Eleazar on social media. On his YouTube channel Mellow spread Covid misinformation, delivering sermons 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 recruitment video online, seeking “able bodied men” to sail with him from Hawaii to the South Pacific where Covid hadn’t taken hold. In his video he suggested society was doomed.
Isaac Danian signed on for the trip and left home Labor Day weekend 2020 while his parents were out of town.
Only when his parents filed a missing persons report seven months later did they learn from an investigator with the Kent County Sheriff’s Office in Michigan that their son had been in communication with Mellow.
“This guru clown convinced them to fly to Hawaii and join him on this journey across a huge portion of the Pacific Ocean to find a Covid free place where they could start again and escape Satan’s grand plan,” author and journalist David Wolman, who first investigated this case for The New York Times, told CNN.
Mellow it turns out had arranged for a couple of boat captains to sail him and his recruits to the South Pacific. Danian and a second man, Shukree Abdul-Rashed, from Rochester, New York, would go in captain Mike Schmidt’s boat, while Mellow left days later in another boat with another captain.
“They actually had a really good time these two, caught a lot of fish,” Schmidt told CNN. At times, Schmidt says, the weather was challenging and the seas dangerous.
“One storm I actually had my nose broken on the wheel. The boat got picked up in the middle of the night and broke my nose. So we had some struggles but most of the time that we did sail we caught fish, we barbecued, it was beautiful weather.”
Schmidt told CNN they first headed to the Cook Islands, but it turned out they were closed for entry due to the pandemic. Given the dicey weather, he says he turned the boat toward American Samoa, but when they learned that they had to take a Covid test to enter, 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 the island of Wallis, a French territory between Hawaii and New Zealand. That’s when the trip took a dark turn. After Schmidt alerted authorities about their arrival so they could anchor their boat, he told CNN, Danian and Abdul-Rashed suddenly jumped overboard.
“The reason why they jumped is because they don’t want to be on the boat. They want to get away from taking this Covid PCR test. They were afraid of taking the Covid test, as it being the mark of the beast now, they had gotten involved with the guru,” Schmidt said.
As soon as the men jumped, Schmidt told CNN, he alerted Wallis Island authorities for help, and flagged down a fishing boat to search. He said Danian’s plan was “to slip into oblivion with Abdul-Rashed and Matt Mellow and ride out the end of the world. The three of them… no ties back to the United States whatsoever.”
According to Wolman, the journalist, “They had been led astray by an Instagram era wanna-be prophet guru who spoke in just the right way and manner to draw these two young men in.” Wolman called it “the witches’ brew of Covid conspiracy, end times prophecy, Christian fundamentalism meets stress and turmoil about the 2020 election.”
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 interrogated and authorities confiscated his 9-millimeter pistol, laptop and Garmin GPS device from the boat. Schmidt was eventually cleared in the investigation.
“I never did anything to harm them,” Schmidt told CNN.
At the 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 appealed to the State Department and French authorities for help. But there have been many challenges along the way.
“The problem is that it’s not just so far away, but it’s international. There’s a language barrier. We’re dealing with the French judiciary system,” John Danian told CNN. “It was on water, and it was a maritime type of an incident, so you have many different agencies and authorities trying to coordinate this effort.”
Over two years later, Abigail and John Danian are no closer to finding their son.
“We do have hope he’s alive because there hasn’t been any evidence to prove otherwise,” Abigal Danian told CNN. “It’s possible that he wanted to go off the grid and he’s in a manic state, it’s possible that he was unwillingly kidnapped. It’s possible that he drowned. If somebody said to you, your child probably died, would you just accept that and move on? That’s not something we can do.”
Just last week, the Danians received a letter from French authorities alerting them they were officially closing the investigation into his disappearance. The Danians are considering appealing the findings.
“The only determination that they could make was that both Isaac and Shukree had both jumped into the ocean and there were no remains found,” Abigail Danian told CNN. In the meantime, the Kent County Sheriff’s Office said its missing persons investigation is still open. Isaac’s family says they’ve also been told by the State Department there is some sort of “interagency investigation” underway but they are not sure who is involved.
As far as Mellow’s whereabouts, Wolman spoke with him several months after the men disappeared. The two met on an island in French Polynesia where Wolman says Mellow was living with his mother.
“He printed out this leaflet with… kind of every religious extremism plus Covid conspiracy keyword you could imagine from 666 and mark of the beast to Illuminati to George Soros to Bill Gates and nanobots and it’s.. just like this verbal diarrhea of nonsense,” Wolman said. “He’s passing it out to the people in a very impoverished part of the world telling them or telling their children don’t get vaccinated.”
Did Mellow take any responsibility for what happened to Isaac Danian and Shukree Abdul-Rashed?
“He does not have any sense of responsibility for what happened to them,” Wolman said. “He refers to them as his brothers, saying they died in God’s good graces.”
Wolman said Mellow told him, “These were my dear friends. I loved them. I cried myself to sleep for months after they were gone.”