Body of Iowa 18-year-old who vanished after leaving Target store in January is found

Abdullahi "Abdi" Sharif was last seen on security video on Jan. 17 leaving the Target store at Merle Hay Mall in Des Moines where he and his sister, Ifrah, had worked for about two years.

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By Elisha Fieldstadt

The body of an Iowa 18-year-old who vanished in January after leaving a Target store was found in the Des Moines River, police said Monday.

Abdullahi "Abdi" Sharif was last seen on security video on Jan. 17 leaving the Target at Merle Hay Mall in Des Moines where he and his sister, Ifrah, had worked for about two years.

According to Ifrah, Sharif was off school because of bad weather that day and told his family he was called in for a shift at Target, so their mother drove him to the mall around noon. They later discovered that Abdi was not on the schedule that day.

"It was not unusual for him to be there,” Ifrah said weeks after her brother disappeared. “He loved working there and would sometimes just hang out. And the mall was in the same area, so he’d spend hours there.”

Abdi had texted their mother and asked her to pick him up from Target at 9:30 p.m., but when she showed up, he wasn’t there, and calls to his phone went straight to voicemail. The family reported him missing the next day.

Abudullahi "Abdi" Sharif

The Des Moines Police Department said in a statement Monday that a kayaker called Saturday afternoon to report spotting a body in the river in Prospect Park, about 4 miles from the Target.

The Des Moines Fire Department's water-rescue unit recovered the body, which was later identified as Sharif's.

"There was no traumatic injury observed during autopsy," police said. The cause of death is still under investigation.

Ifrah had said that her brother had referred to "bad, bad news" in a Snapchat post he made from the Target on the day he went missing.

"As investigators started looking into the case, one of the things that stood out right away was absence of video evidence. We had really two shots of him walking out of Target," said Des Moines Police Sgt. Paul Parizek in a video posted on the department's Facebook page Monday. "We were able to determine that he voluntarily left the store, but after that it was just one question after the other."

He said they didn't consider it strange for an 18-year-old to not be where he said he would be when he called his mother to pick him up, "but as we started looking a little bit closer at Abdi’s history, his personality, we realized pretty quick that this was out of his character."

"He wasn’t the type of kid to leave his mom sitting there without letting her know what was going on," Parizek said.

Detectives, who put "hundreds of investigative hours on this" eventually called in the FBI because "every lead led to another question," Parizek said.

Search parties with "amazing turnout" scoured areas surrounding the mall, including Prospect Park, where Sharif's phone has last pinged, but found nothing.

The family had hired a private investigator Stephanie Kinney, who called the search "one of the hardest cases I’ve ever worked."

Parizek said Monday that those searching for Sharif were still hoping "that we would find him alive somewhere and there’d be some sort of an explanation."

"This is definitely a sad ending, not the ending that we wanted, but at least we’ve got some closure for the family," he said, adding, "The case is far from closed."

"We’ve got a lot of questions about exactly, 'Was this accidental? Was it intentional?' and, 'How did he end up in the river?'" Parizek said.

"This is a case that our investigators took home with them, and it kept them up at night trying to figure out why aren’t these pieces coming together because they should be, and it was very exhausting for a lot of folks, and there was no relief at the end of this," he said. "You could see it on the investigators’ faces Saturday that this was not the ending that we wanted."