Shani Louk, 23-year-old kidnapped by Hamas from music festival, declared dead, Israel says

A 23-year-old German-Israeli woman who was kidnapped from the Nova music festival by Hamas militants on October 7 has been declared dead, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said.

“We are devastated to share that the body of 23 year old German-Israeli Shani (Louk) was found and identified,” the ministry posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Monday.

A source involved with her identification told CNN Louk’s death was announced after forensic examiners found a bone fragment from her skull.

Shani Louk in a post from her Instagram. Music festival goers heard rockets, then Gaza militants fired on them and took hostages. - Shani Louk/Instagram
Shani Louk in a post from her Instagram. Music festival goers heard rockets, then Gaza militants fired on them and took hostages. - Shani Louk/Instagram

The bone fragment was from the petrous part of the temporal bone, which is at the base of the skull, normally near the carotid artery, a major blood vessel that provides blood to the brain. A DNA test concluded the fragment belonged to Louk.

“She was a beautiful, lively person,” Ricarda Louk, Shani’s mother, told CNN Tuesday, a day after her death was confirmed. “She just enjoyed laughing, and experiencing life, and so it was just cut too short.”

Louk was attending the festival in southern Israel on October 7 when Hamas breached the border between Gaza and Israel.

Louk was kidnapped at the festival and “tortured and paraded around Gaza by Hamas terrorists,” the foreign ministry statement said, adding that she “experienced unfathomable horrors.”

The bone fragment, combined with the circumstances surrounding the October 7 attack and video that appeared to show Louk unconscious on the back of a Hamas truck, led investigators to conclude these were her remains.

Militants blocked off the road to the festival from the north and the south during their October 7 attack, before swarming the sprawling site on foot, videos from the site showed.

They then encircled the crowds on three sides, gunning them down and forcing them to flee over fields to the east.

Louk’s mother told CNN earlier this month that she last spoke to her daughter after hearing rockets and alarms sounding in southern Israel, calling to see if she’d made it to a secure location. Shani told her mother she was at the festival with few places to hide.

“She was going to her car and they had military people standing by the cars and were shooting so people couldn’t reach their cars, even to go away. And that’s when they took her,” Ricarda told CNN.

On Tuesday, Louk’s mother said the festival had turned from “a celebration to a nightmare.”

Describing her ordeal since her daughter’s abduction, Ricarda Louk added: After three weeks that you have no idea where your daughter is, what they’re doing to her… You don’t know if she’s alive or not, or injured, nothing. It’s just like you’re in a vacuum for three weeks, just hoping to get some signs.”

“And then suddenly you get the worst news,” she said. “We always had hopes. We were optimistic that she would come back.”

More than 260 bodies were found at the Nova festival site itself, according to Israeli rescue service Zaka but, based on CNN’s analysis, the total death toll could be even higher.

The body of Louk, a dual Israeli-German citizen, was seen on video seemingly unconscious on the back of a Hamas truck after the music festival attack.

“After the video, you saw that, it’s impossible to see if she’s alive or dead. It was very scary, and we were very worried,” Louk’s mother told CNN in the days after the rampage.

Her mother added that she had sought support from the German government in helping free her daughter. “I don’t understand really how such a brutal thing can just happen in the middle of the day and it was a complete surprise,” Louk said.

A number of hostages were also taken back to Gaza. The latest figure of hostages believed to be held by Hamas in the enclave is up to 239, Israeli military spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said on Sunday.

An Israeli soldier, Pvt. Ori Megidish, who had been kidnapped by Hamas on October 7 was freed during ground operations in Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said Monday.

“It indeed was a Special Operation that was targeted in specifically getting her out,” IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Tuesday, adding that the IDF’s initial announcement – which said the soldier was “released” – was a translation error.

“Based on intelligence” the Israeli special forces went into northern Gaza knowing her whereabouts and rescued her, Conricus said. “They were in there for a job,” he said, adding that Megidish is “well mentally and physically,” and has been reunited with her family.

Four hostages had previously been released – an American woman and her daughter, and later an 85-year-old Israeli woman and her 79-year-old friend.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under increasing pressure from the families of hostages for a “comprehensive deal” to ensure their release. These calls are becoming more urgent amid concerns for what Israel’s expanding ground operations could mean for the safety of hostages trapped in Gaza.

Netanyahu met with families of the hostages in Tel Aviv on Saturday, where they demanded answers on the security of their loved ones and pushed him to secure the hostages’ freedom, as Israel’s offensive escalated.

“We spoke bluntly and made it clear to the prime minister in no uncertain terms that a comprehensive deal based on the ‘everyone for everyone’ principle is a deal the families would consider, and has the support of all of Israel,” Meirav Leshem Gonen, mother of Romi Gonen, who was kidnapped from the festival, said on behalf of the families in a news conference following the meeting.

An “everyone for everyone” deal would involve the release of the hostages in exchange for Palestinians currently held in Israeli prisons, which the nongovernmental organization Palestinian Prisoners Club estimates to be 6,630 people.

On Monday, Hamas released a short video showing three women who are believed to be captives held by the Palestinian militant group.

The video shows them seated in plastic chairs facing the camera, while the woman in the middle addresses Netanyahu directly with increasing fury. She makes reference to a press conference by families of the hostages “yesterday,” suggesting it was filmed on Monday.

The women do not show visible signs of physical mistreatment, but CNN is unable to verify anything about their circumstances or well-being.

CNN’s Jake Tapper, Anna Chernova, Yong Xiong and Christian Edwards contributed reporting.

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