Michael Sharp, a 34-year-old Indiana native and investigator for the United Nations, went missing on March 12 with his Swedish colleague Zaida Catalan while looking into alleged human rights abuses by both the government and rebels.
They were among six people kidnapped March 12 in the Central African nation’s Kasai Central province, according to reports.
The two, as well as interpreter Betu Tshintela, driver Isaac Kabuayi and two motorcyclists, were believed to be kidnapped in the Kasai region where bloody fighting has recently expanded.
Congolese police inspector general Charles Bisenginama said the bodies of Sharp and Catalan of Sweden were identified after being found Monday. The body of their interpreter, Betu Tshintela, was also found.
State authorities confirmed Tuesday to the Sharp family that two “Caucasian bodies” had been found in shallow graves, and that the victims were Sharp and Catalan.
“This is a message I hoped never to write,” Sharp’s father John, who lives in Kansas, said on Facebook while telling friends of the bodies on Monday.
“All other words fail me.”
Sharp and Catalan are believed to be the first UN experts to go missing in the Congo, where the international agency estimates that more than 400 people have been killed and 200,000 displaced since last year.
The Kamwina Nsapu militia, which has been blamed for a spike in violence since the death of their leader in August, often beheads its victims.
Sharp, who lives in New Mexico when not abroad, previously worked for the Mennonite church in Central Africa, according to The Wichita Eagle.
His father told the newspaper that it was his son’s life work to solve conflicts nonviolently.
Parts of Congo, particularly the east, have experienced insecurity for decades, but violence in the Kasai provinces in central Congo represent a new expansion of tensions.