John Allen Chau’s ill-fated and fatal trip to North Sentinel Island was several years in the making.
Before stepping foot on the remote island, where he was allegedly killed by the Sentinelese people after attempting to convert them to Christianity earlier this month, Chau, 26, spent much of his time studying the group — who have little to no contact with the outside world.
According to The Washington Post, Chau first arrived on India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands— groups of land including North Sentinel Island, in 2016 when he began taking scuba diving lessons at friend Remco Snoeji’s shop on Havelock Island.
Snoeji told The Post he remembers Chau taking a “keen interest in researching and knowing more” about the tribespeople.
Worried for what Chau might do, Snoeji explained he warned the young missionary that the island was off-limits and even told him stories about two fishermen who traveled to the island in 2006 and were strangled by the Sentinelese. However, that didn’t stop Chau’s curiosity.
“He lost his mind, definitely,” Snoeji told the newspaper. “But ask any adventurer. You have to lose your mind a little bit, otherwise, you don’t do it.”
Chau later told his friends of his determination to get to the island and how he spent time studying how to bypass military patrols as the island was protected by the Indian government, who banned anyone from making contact with the villagers.
Chau had a “very meticulous plan to camouflage his expedition as fishing activity,” Dependra Pathak, the director general of police for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands said, The Washington Post reported.
John Middleton Ramsey, another friend of the missionary, also recalls Chau’s passion for the expedition.
“He knew of the dangers of this place,” Ramsey explained to The Post before explaining that Chau refused to involve himself in any serious relationships that would take his focus from the island. “He didn’t want any hearts broken should something go wrong. He was very much aware of what he was doing. He also knew it wasn’t exactly legal.”
Also in 2016, Chau joined the Missouri-based missionary group All Nations, who send Christian missionaries to 40 countries. According to the group’s international executive leader Mary Ho, Chau told them he wanted to live with the Sentinelese people and learn their language.
“You could see that every decision he has made, every step he has taken since then was driven by his desire to be among the North Sentinelese people,” Ho told The Washington Post.
On the night of Nov. 14, Chau allegedly paid a group of fisherman to take him to the island by boat after arriving on the Andaman Islands on Oct. 16.
Once he made contact with the Sentinelese people the next morning, Chau wrote in his journal that they allegedly reacted angrily when he tried to preach to them, according to The Post.
“I hollered, ‘My name is John, I love you and Jesus loves you,” Chau explained in his journal on Nov. 16.
He then wrote that one of the tribespeople struck him with an arrow, which pierced through his Bible.
“You guys might think I’m crazy in all this but I think it’s worthwhile to declare Jesus to these people,” Chau wrote before adding, “God, I don’t want to die.”
The following day, he tried to make contact again. Tragically, local fishermen said they watched as the Sentinelese people attacked and dragged Chau away, CNN reported.
A fellow missionary confirmed the fishermen’s sighting to Chau’s mother Lynda Adams-Chau, according to an email also obtained by The Post.
At this time, Indian police have not confirmed whether or not Chau is dead, but believe he is and they are doing their best to recover his body.
However, due to the fact that the Sentinelese people are threatened by outside contact, it’s been very difficult to find Chau’s remains.
“We have a team out in the waters for reconnaissance and to strategize how to recover his body. The team consists of coastal guards, officials from tribal welfare department, forest department officers and police officials,” Indian police told CNN.
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As of Monday, a tribal rights organization is calling for officials to not try to recover Chau’s body, claiming the attempt would be “incredibly dangerous” to both authorities and the Sentinelese people.
Stephen Corry, Survival International’s Director, issued the precautionary statement on Monday.
“We urge the Indian authorities to abandon efforts to recover John Allen Chau’s body,” Corry wrote. “Any such attempt is incredibly dangerous, both for the Indian officials, but also for the Sentinelese, who face being wiped out if any outside diseases are introduced.”
North Sentinel Island is about the size of Manhattan but those that live on the island are known to fiercely protect themselves if anyone or anything attempts to come close to their village, according to Survival International. Reports on their numbers vary from as little as 15 to over 100.
The group first gained national attention in 2004 when authorities flew by helicopter to check on the island after the Asian tsunami. A member of the tribe was photographed firing arrows at the helicopter.
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