A Fort Myers teen on an exchange program in Jordan has disappeared in Tel Aviv, Israel.
TeNiya Jones, 19, a 2017 Dunbar High School graduate and University of Kentucky sophomore, was in a seven-week exchange program in Jordan when friends decided to take a weekend trip to Israel before returning to the U.S. next Friday.
Jones' mother, Tosha Thomas-Mora, received a message late Saturday night telling her Jones was missing.
Thomas-Mora said she had exchanged text messages with her daughter at 3:30 p.m on Saturday. In Israel it was 10:30 p.m. and her daughter had told her she was "in for the night." Less than eight hours later she received a call from CIEE: Council On International Educational Exchange, which offered the study abroad program through the University of Kentucky.
Bill Bull, the vice president of Health and Safety at the CIEE left her a voice mail message saying her daughter, who was studying in Amman, Jordan, had gone to Israel for the weekend. "I wish to talk to you about what's happening in Tel Aviv and give you some updates," Bull said in a recorded message. "Right now there's concern that she went out swimming and she has not yet returned and it's been about 2 and a half hours. Search and rescue is looking for her and the U.S. Embassy is involved."
When Thomas-Mora called him back Bull said that the teen had gone for a "midnight swim" with two other young people from the exchange program. When they were out in the water they were caught in a rip current. All three swam toward shore, Thomas-Mora said Bull told her, but Jones couldn't be found there. The other students alerted authorities.
Thomas-Mora said she also received a call from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. The woman she spoke with told her that the Israeli police are still actively searching for her daughter.
Bull, reached by telephone, said the U.S. Embassy and the Israeli authorities are assisting and working with a search-and-rescue team to locate Jones.
"There were other students present in Tel Aviv," with Jones, he said, and they are "naturally concerned for the well-being of their friend."
According to family members those friends were a 20-year-old woman from Washington, D.C. who also attends the University of Kentucky and a 21-year-old man from Illinois who attends West Virginia University.
Thomas-Mora said that her daughter knows how to swim but prefers walking the beach.
"She's a decent swimmer," Thomas-Mora said, but she had never known her to swim in the Gulf when she went to the beach in Southwest Florida. "The furthest I've known her to go is to stand and wade at the shore of the water and take pictures."
Jones' cousin Jean Davis, one of about 50 distraught relatives who had gathered in Thomas-Mora's home on Dupree Street on Sunday, said she doesn't think Jones would have gone swimming at midnight. "That's not like her," Davis said. "She wouldn't take a risk like that."
In December, Thomas-Mora's son, Samuel Jones Jr., 22, was shot and killed in a double homicide in Lehigh Acres. She has another daughter, 3-year-old Naomi Ruth Mora.
Jones was in the International Baccalaureate program at Dunbar High School, Thomas-Mora said. Jones was a biology major with a minor in Islamic studies, which was the reason she was studying in Jordan, her mom said. She traveled to Amman in June and was supposed to return to the U.S. next week.
Thomas-Mora is making arrangements to leave for Tel Aviv on Monday.
Jones, her mother said, is an excellent student whose high G.P.A. had helped her earn a spot in the University of Kentucky's premedical program. "She was supposed to start on August 23," Thomas-Mora said before she broke down in tears.
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