The grieving family of a presumed-drowned New Jersey man says authorities haven't put much effort into searching for the missing man because he is a Muslim.
Police say 21-year-old Wajhat Yaqoob accompanied friends to a local spot known as a "mine hole" on March 10, where they went swimming. While the body of water is in a state park, authorities said swimming there is dangerous and prohibited.
When Wajhat didn't surface from the water, his friends called police, NJ.com reported. Dive teams responded and searched for the missing Jersey City man until nightfall, without luck. They returned several more times over the next few days to search for him, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said.
Wajhat's body has not been recovered.
On March 15, Wajhat's family held a funeral prayer service, where his grieving father lashed out at authorities.
"Two days ago I realized, in America there are three [sets of] laws: for blacks, whites and for Muslims," 58-year-old Mohammad Yaqoob said.
Ayaz Yaqoob, the missing man's 25-year-old brother, told reporters outside the prayer service that he believes police would have taken the search more seriously if Wajhat wasn't Muslim.
"We're not being treated as Americans," Ayaz said. "There's no closure for the family or the mother. It's hard."
A report in North Jersey's The Record described the area as a popular spot for swimmers, who typically dive off of a rock ledge into the water below. It's part of Long Pond, a state-protected area that is part of the 21,000-acre Sterling Forest straddling the New York and New Jersey borders, according to the New York–New Jersey Trail Conference.
Although described as a pond, the "mine hole" has strong currents fed by the Wanaque River, which empties into the pond via a waterfall. Temperatures near the surface of the water can be much warmer than the undercurrents, which can become cold enough to cause swimmers to go into shock, The Record noted, citing earlier comments by the DEP.
While saying he understands the Yaqoob family's frustration, DEP spokesperson Bob Considine said divers have "risked their own lives" in the search, braving "very hazardous and difficult conditions," reported NJ.com.
"We share in the family's grief, as surely do all who have participated in the search efforts," Considine said. "In any search effort, the safety of the rescuers has to be taken into consideration. They go to extreme lengths to help other people, but, unfortunately, sometimes search efforts do not produce the hoped-for results."