Amid the devastating war between Israel and Hamas, relatives of Israeli hostages have had to learn of their kidnappings through frantic, whispered phone calls and videos posted on social media.
Israeli officials have now identified and notified the families of 199 hostages captured during the surprise attack led by Hamas, an Israel Defense Forces spokesman said Monday.
In a video statement released Monday, a spokesman for the armed wing of Hamas said there are 200 to 250 people being held in Gaza. He claimed that 22 of the hostages died in bombings by Israeli forces.
Hamas would be willing to release all civilian hostages if Israel stops its airstrikes on Gaza, a senior Hamas official told NBC News on Tuesday. Some of the hostages are in Hamas’ captivity, while others are being held by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another group based in Gaza, and by “random Gaza citizen opportunists,” according to a former U.S. official briefed on the matter.
These accounts of kidnappings are based on interviews with the families and, in many cases, videos showing apparent abductions. In some instances, groups of relatives disappeared at the same time, and family members have been left to wonder whether they are alive and missing, among the hostages or dead.
Here are some of their stories:
Sharon Alony Cunio, 34; David Cunio, 33; Emma and Julie Cunio, 3; Danielle Alony, 44; Amelia Alony, 5
In New York City, thousands of miles away from where Hamas is holding his six Israeli family members captive in Gaza, Liam Zeitchik aches for his relatives. He said he has to wrench information out of government leaders, including his own.
“We’re so far away,” said Zeitchik, 27, who lives in Brooklyn and has dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship. “You can feel helpless and hopeless.”
Zeitchik’s cousins and their three children were snatched from the safe room of a southern Israel kibbutz near Gaza on Oct. 7, as terrorists set their home and others on fire, Zeitchik said. He said a video on social media shows his relatives being hauled off in a vehicle in Hamas custody and the abductions were confirmed to the family by the Israel Defense Forces.
The youngest abductees are 3-year-old twin sisters, Emma and Julie Cunio, and their 5-year-old cousin, Amelia Alony. The children were taken along with their parents: Sharon Alony Cunio, 34; her husband, David Cunio, 33; and Sharon’s sister, Danielle Alony, 44, who was visiting the Cunios.
Since the start of the war, Zeitchik said he and his family on the East Coast have sought help and answers from U.S. leaders but have not received any because, he said, their missing relatives are not U.S. citizens.
“We’re caught in between, in this gray area,” he said. “It’s confusing and it’s lonely.”
Mia Schem, 21
Keren Schem screamed with joy and fell to the floor Monday night when she saw her daughter speaking to the camera in the first hostage video released by Hamas since the start of its war with Israel.
It was the first official confirmation in more than a week that Mia Schem, 21, had been abducted during the deadly assault by Hamas terrorists on the Supernova music festival Oct. 7.
“I didn’t know if she’s dead or alive until yesterday,” Keren Schem said Tuesday at a news conference in Tel Aviv.
Her daughter’s current condition is unknown, and it is unclear when the video was recorded.
In the footage filmed under duress, Mia Schem says that she had been taken to Gaza and begs to return home.
Keren Schem told NBC’s Lester Holt that her daughter, who is a French citizen, looked pale and in pain.
“This is the worst nightmare for every mother in the world,” she said. “This is a crime against humanity.”
Evyatar David, 22
For Evyatar David’s family, the uncertainty is the hardest part.
“All you have is your imagination,” Jonathan Guttman, his cousin, said.
In videos taken by Hamas terrorists after they attacked the Supernova music festival Oct. 7, David, 23, is bound and appears terrified.
His tight-knit family last heard from him that Saturday morning when rockets in the sky suddenly interrupted a night of dancing and partying, Guttman said.
“Something like this happens, you just tell your family you’re OK,” Guttman said. Then, David sent another message — there were explosions at the party.
Friends who survived told the family that David had tried to help people escape and that he stayed back to tend to the injured, said Guttman, 31, who lives in Prague. That is David’s nature, his cousin said, calling him “a very strong person, very supportive.”
Guttman said the Israel Defense Forces confirmed to the family that David is one of the hostages about a day after relatives saw the video. They have not heard any updates since, he said.
But the video keeps them hoping.
“He seems unharmed, which is basically a miracle considering what went on in that music festival,” Guttman said. “We are thankful for what we got in this situation.”
“He is still just starting his life right now,” he added.
Omer Shem Tov, 20
Omer Shem Tov had dinner with his family Oct. 6 and then left to attend the music festival, wearing a bright yellow T-shirt and long black shorts that bore a unique pattern on the sides.
After Hamas terrorists stormed the festival, killing 260 people and abducting many others, Shem Tov’s family said they saw a video online showing the 20-year-old in his distinctive outfit, lying on his side with his hands bound behind his back.
“This is the most horrific thing we have ever seen,” his brother, Amit Shem Tov, told NBC News. “My mother could not handle it.”
Amit Shem Tov said Israeli officials have told the family that his brother had been taken hostage to Gaza but that he was alive.
“That’s the most important thing,” he said. “I’m still hopeful.”
Ron Sherman, 19
Israeli soldier Ron Sherman was shaken awake Oct. 7 by the deafening sound of missiles, bombs and gunfire all around him, according to his mother, Maayan Sherman.
Just one year into his mandatory service, Sherman helped to deliver goods to the people of Gaza and was unarmed when his base was attacked, his mother said. He scrambled to find safety and texted his mother, frightened and unsure what to do.
“He said it sounded different from other times they’ve had these attacks,” she said. “I didn’t believe him — I thought it was a dream.”
Her son, who has Argentine citizenship, called again moments later and said he heard people speaking Arabic outside the room where he was hiding.
“I love you all. I’m done — they’re coming” Maayan Sherman remembers her son saying.
Four hours later, she received photos and video taken by Hamas showing her son being taken hostage.
“He looked very healthy and alive,” she said. “We were so terrified, but we were relieved because he was alive and he had a chance.”
Karina Ariev, 19
Sasha Ariev, 24, knew “something wasn’t right” when she got a call on her cellphone at 6:30 a.m. on Oct. 7.
It was her younger sister, 19-year-old IDF soldier Karina Ariev, who was hunkered down in a bomb shelter near the Nahal Oz kibbutz in southern Israel. Hamas gunmen had apparently raided the IDF base where she workedmaking her fear for her life.
Sasha Ariev later saw a video clip showing her sister apparently being kidnapped. She said she assumes her sister is being held in Gaza. “We don’t know if she is alive,” she said. She said that an Israeli military officer came to her family’s home the night of Oct. 8 to tell them that her sister was being held by Hamas.
“We want the Red Cross to go into Gaza and confirm whether there are hostages, whether they’re alive, whether they need urgent medical attention,” she said.
Sasha Ariev said she feels “betrayed” by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, which was evidently caught off guard by the unprecedented Hamas assault. “In a democracy, we choose our leaders to secure us and to lead us, but they didn’t do that well, and this is why we’re in this situation,” she said.
Netanyahu has launched deadly airstrikes on the densely populated Gaza Strip in retaliation, and Sasha Ariev said that her “heart goes out to Palestinian civilians” caught in the conflict. “Hamas is a terror organization,” she said. “We know there are Palestinian civilians who are scared of Hamas, especially in Gaza. They are innocent people and they’ve done nothing wrong.”
She said she is praying for her sister’s safe return, but she knows that nothing will ever be the same.
“After we saw the video of Karina,” she said, “we felt that Hamas took part of her soul that may never come back. We pray she will come home safe and sound, but she won’t be the same person ever again. She will be traumatized. She will be scarred.”
Bar Kuperstein, 21
Bar Kuperstein’s mother received a text from her son around 6:30 a.m. on Oct. 7 saying he planned to pack up and leave the music festival in the Israeli desert because it was under attack, his uncle Itzhak Tabatchnik said.
After spending hours scrolling through social media trying to determine his location, the family found a video around 12:30 p.m. appearing to show Kuperstein being held captive by militants, Tabatchnik said.
The family later learned from other people at the festival that Kuperstein waited to make sure other attendees and staff members got to safety first, his uncle said. An estimated 260 people were killed at the desert festival in the Negev region.
“He is a hero,” Tabatchnik said. “Bar and the entire population at the festival has nothing to do with military conflict and the world should know about what happened to them. They were totally innocent.”
The eldest of five children, Kuperstein took it upon himself to look after his family after his father was in a car accident two years ago and could no longer walk, his uncle said.
“He functioned not only as a big brother, but, in a certain way, he took responsibility of his entire family because of his father’s disability,” he added.
It was that natural instinct to protect that likely inspired Kuperstein to stay behind at the music festival, where he was working Saturday morning, Tabatchnik said.
“He is the kind of guy you can trust: self-motivated, well educated, supporting the family,” Tabatchnik said. “He has a good heart and a good character.”
Hersh Goldberg-Polin, 23
Born in California and raised in Chicago, Hersh Goldberg-Polin left his mother’s home in Jerusalem on the night of Oct. 6 saying that he planned to camp out with his best friend and would be home later in the weekend.
The next morning, around 8:11 a.m, Rachel Goldberg received texts from her son that she will never forget: “I love you” and “I’m sorry.”
She has not heard from Goldberg-Polin since.
An avid traveler who had been saving up for a big trip in December, Goldberg-Polin was among a group of revelers at a music festival who hid in a bomb shelter when Hamas attacked.
Rachel Golberg and other relatives have cobbled together information about what happened that morning through eyewitness accounts and social media. She believes her son survived being shot by tying a makeshift tourniquet to stop the bleeding before being dragged off by Hamas as a hostage.
Several friends credited him with saving their lives, she said.
“He is a smiley, fun-loving guy and people of all ages gravitate towards him,” Rachel Goldberg said.
Celine Ben David Nagar, 32
Ido Nagar, 33, said his wife, Celine Ben David Nagar, was driving south from their home in Holon, south of Tel Aviv, with two friends Oct. 7 when she called him and said she was hearing rocket warning sirens. She said they would try to turn back to get to a shelter. But then she said turning back may have been a mistake — that “soldiers are coming.”
Later, her car was found with its windows smashed and two bullet holes in the door, he said. A small amount of blood was discovered outside the vehicle. “I’m assuming that they were taken by Hamas,” Ido Nagar said.
Since then, Ido Nagar said his family has been flooded with support from neighbors, with many dropping off enough milk for the couple’s 6-month-old daughter, Ellie, to fill a whole fridge.
Ido Nagar is left with longing. “She’s the love of my life. She was perfect,” he said. “We had such a perfect... we have such a perfect marriage.”
Yaffa Adar, 85
Relatives of Yaffa Adar, a grandmother abducted from her kibbutz near Gaza on a golf cart, are pleading for her return, saying she’s sick and in need of medicine.
Adva Adar, her granddaughter, told Sky News that Yaffa Adar is gentle and funny and loves to cuddle. She is the backbone of a large family in Israel, she added.
“She liked to enjoy her life and she liked to help us enjoy our life,” she said.
Adva Adar saw a now-viral video showing Hamas militants kidnapping her grandmother and driving away in a golf cart. The elderly woman reportedly lived in kibbutz Nir Oz, according to Reuters.
“I don’t know if there is any word that can describe it — we were in shock,” she said. “It hurts in every inch of our bodies.”
Carmela Dan, 80; Ofer Kalderon, 50; Sahar Kalderon, 16; Noya Dan, 13; Erez Kalderon, 12
Carmela Dan has lived in the same kibbutz for 60 years, finding tranquillity in a community of several hundred people who shared meals in lush green gardens.
On Oct. 7, she hid in a safe room with her three grandchildren and Ofer Kalderon, her son-in-law, — the father of Sahar and Erez — while militants threw smoke grenades into homes trying to lure residents out, her cousin Abbey Onn said.
Onn had been keeping tabs on the family via a WhatsApp chat when she suddenly stopped hearing from Dan and others after Israeli officials warned residents to stop using their cellphones.
Onn still had not heard from her relatives until Oct. 8, when a colleague said one of the children, Onn’s second cousin, had been spotted in an Instagram video posted by an influencer. It shows Erez being manhandled by a militant as he appears to be taken captive.
“I burst into tears. I started shaking,” Onn said. “I’m a mother of three. This is just every parent’s worst nightmare.”
Onn described Dan as one of the funniest, most generous people she has ever known. She and her family and neighbors frequently shared meals in the lush gardens of the kibbutz, Onn said.
“She and her husband helped build this legacy and felt deeply connected to the land,” Onn said of Dan, whose husband died several years ago.
“It was her kind of beauty,” she added.
Doron Asher Katz, 34; Efrat Katz, 67; Aviv Asher, 2; Raz Asher, 5
On Oct. 7, Israeli resident Yoni Asher’s wife, Doron Katz, called him to say terrorists had descended on a home where she and her relatives were hiding. The last thing she told him, he said, was that the militants were armed and that she was afraid to talk too loudly on the phone.
Later he watched on social media as a disturbing video emerged appearing to show his wife, two young daughters, ages 5 and 2, and his mother-in-law being taken by Hamas and crammed on the back of a vehicle. He believed his father-in-law had also been abducted.
“The worst has happened — they discovered them and took them,” Asher said.
His wife and mother-in-law both have German citizenship, and he has been in touch with the German Embassy, but he remains frustrated by the lack of updates.
“I just want my little baby girls back home with my wife,” he said.
Shiri Silberman-Bibas, 30, and her 9-month-old and 3-year-old boys
Yifat Zailer has been desperate for news about her six missing relatives for days.
Zailer said a friend messaged her a video showing Hamas militants capturing her cousin Silberman-Bibas, 30, as she clutched her two small boys, who are 9 months and 3 years old.
She presumes that Silberman-Bibas’ 37-year-old husband and her parents, Yosi and Margit Silberman, were also kidnapped, because their bodies were not among the hundreds found in the area.
Zalier said she has not heard from Silberman-Bibas or her husband or parents.
“I miss my family. I need them close,” she said, breaking down in sobs. “I need to know they’re OK.”
Zailer said she understands that Israeli authorities are most likely consumed by the “magnitude of the event” and are struggling to keep civilians informed. But she remains desperate for news.
“Families are crying for help,” she said. “Families are looking for their loved ones.”
Noa Argamani, 25; Avinatan Or
In a viral video recorded the morning of Oct. 7, Noa Argamani screams and reaches for her boyfriend as Hamas militants force her onto the back of a motorcycle during the music festival, driving off into the desert.
Her boyfriend, Avinatan Or, was overtaken by another group of men and is presumed to have been kidnapped.
Her father, Yaacov Argamani, struggled to breathe as he told reporters that his only child is sweet and loving.
Asked what he would tell his daughter’s captors, he said through heavy sobs: “Please, please, I beg you, don’t hurt her.”
CORRECTION (Nov. 6, 2023, 9:20 a.m. ET): A previous version of this story misstated the age of Evyatar David. He is 22, not 23.