John Allen Chau, who was killed by members of one of the world’s last tribes untouched by modern civilization after he ventured onto their remote island, spent summers alone in a California cabin as a wilderness emergency responder, coached soccer for poor children in Iraq and South Africa, and visited Israel on a 10-day trip in August 2015.
Chau, 27, was hit by a hail of arrows as he set foot on North Sentinel Island, part of the Indian Andaman Islands, last Saturday, official sources said.
“He was attacked by arrows, but he continued walking. The fishermen saw the tribals tying a rope around his neck and dragging his body,” a source said. “They were scared and fled, but returned next morning to find his body on the seashore.”
North Sentinel is home to the Sentinelese people, believed to number only around 150. To protect their way of life, foreigners and Indians are banned from going within three miles (five kilometers) of the island.
Chau had offered local fishermen money to take him to the island, the source said. They took him some of the way and he paddled the rest in a canoe.
“Words cannot express the sadness we have experienced about this report,” his family said in a statement posted on his Instagram account. “He loved God, life, helping those in need, and had nothing but love for the Sentinelese people.”
Love of Jesus
Chau was from Washington state, where he attended Vancouver Christian High School. He went on to graduate from Oral Roberts University, a Christian college in Oklahoma, in 2014, with a degree in health and exercise science. While there, he worked with the university’s missions and outreach department.
“I have never known a more courageous, selfless, compassionate man and friend,” said Bobby Parks, the department’s former director. “John lived and gave his life to share the love of Jesus with everyone.”
According to the Covenant Journey organization, which organizes trips to Israel, Chau participated in a tour of the country in August 2015. Photos posted on the organization’s website show Chau meeting with a Holocaust survivor and visiting Jerusalem. Chau also posted snapshots from his visit on his Instagram account.
Covenant Journey, which has a Christian cross and Jewish Star of David built into its logo, said that Chau answered a questionnaire in the aftermath of the trip that showed the impact the visit had on the young man.
“This trip impacted my faith by opening my eyes to the complete reality of being where Jesus Christ actually had been when He was my age!” Chau wrote.
“I don’t think I had fully grasped the humanity of Jesus before this trip, and it definitely has strengthened my faith and made the Bible more alive to me,” he added.
One of Chau’s friends, Casey Prince, 39, described him as easy to like, kind, joyful and driven by twin passions: a love of the outdoors and fervent Christianity.
“He was an explorer at heart,” Prince said. “He loved creation and being out in it, I think having probably found and connected with God that way, and deeply so.”
Prince declined to discuss what Chau had told him about his plans for traveling in India or the islands, saying he wanted to focus on Chau’s legacy. But he said Chau accepted the dangers that came with his adventures.
“If he was taking a risk, he was very aware of it,” Prince said.
Some Indian media suggested that Chau was a missionary seeking to convert the islanders to Christianity, but a local policeman told the News Minute website this was inaccurate.
“He was on a misplaced adventure in (a) prohibited area to meet uncontacted persons,” Dependra Pathak told the website.
The Andamans are also home to the 400-strong Jarawa tribe, which activists say is threatened by contact from outsiders. Tourists have previously bribed local officials in a bid to spend time with them.
But the Sentinelese still shun all contact with the outside world and have a record of hostility to anyone who tries to get close.
In 2006, two Indian fishermen who moored their boat to sleep were killed when the vessel broke loose and drifted onto North Sentinel, according to Survival International, a group protecting tribal people’s rights.
The Sentinelese hunt and gather in the forest, and fish in the coastal waters.
The island was hit by the devastating 2004 tsunami that swept across the Indian Ocean, but not much is known about the impact it had on the reclusive inhabitants.
After the tsunami, one member of the tribe was photographed attempting to fire an arrow at an Indian Coast Guard helicopter.
Indian authorities make periodic checks on the tribe from boats anchored at a safe distance from shore.
Police officials said the authorities were consulting “anthropologists and tribal welfare experts” to work out how best to retrieve the victim’s body.