Americans in Israel: Church groups, law enforcement try to make it home

Three days after conflict broke out between Hamas militants and Israel, the toll has risen to approximately 1,000 missing or killed Israelis, 1,500 dead militants, and at least 11 deceased Americans.

President Joe Biden has said that some U.S. citizens remain unaccounted for, and estimates show that 130 or more people were kidnapped by Hamas, with at least one American-Israeli among them.

The FBI has issued a statement assuring that, while there is no specific threat to the U.S., the agency is working with partners in Israel to find impacted Americans there. “Reports of deceased, injured or missing Americans are being treated with the utmost urgency and aggressively investigated,” the statement posted on X reads.

As airlines halt flights to and from the country and The State Department issues travel advisories for the region, several elected officials have said that their constituents are reaching out for help getting out.

At least five American groups traveling to Israel have found themselves stuck in a violent and destructive dispute. Here are those groups, their shelter plans and how they’ve planned to make it home.

In Israel, two Alabama church groups struggling to get home

As reported by, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, located in Daphne, Alabama, and Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Vestavia Hills, Ala.,are trying to get their members out of the Israel.

Reverend Thack Dyson is in Israel with members of the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on a tour. They started their trip in Tel Aviv on Friday, but moved to the northern part of the country when the war broke out, reported.

“Good morning and welcome to morning prayer this Sunday morning in beautiful Galilee,” Dyson said in a Facebook live video posted Sunday. “We’re here in the middle of a war. This is not what we planned, but this is what we got.”

He has been providing updates about the group in the daily prayer videos. The group had three previously-booked flights cancelled, and as of Tuesday morning, he said that some members were able to start traveling home. The group is spreading out their journey home across several days and routes.

“We will certainly have a story to tell when we get back,” Dyson said. “But we will get back.”

Eleven people belonging to the Shades Mountain Baptist Church are also stuck in Israel, reported. A pastor at the church called for prayer Sunday morning, saying they are safe but hoping they return soon. Shade Mountain Baptist Church did not immediately return USA TODAY’s request for comment.

32 members of New York law enforcement ‘close’ to Gaza Strip, return home

Westchester County District Attorney Miriam Rocah said in a statement that a 32-member New York delegation traveled to Israel Oct. 5 for counterterrorism and anti-Semitism training.

“I am in communication with our Deputy Chief who informed me that though the delegation is close to the Gaza Strip, they are sheltering in a safe location and every effort is underway for their safe return to New York,” the Facebook post on Saturday read.

The New York Times reported that they were in Ashdod, and they spent Saturday taking cover in bomb shelters. They were able to leave Sunday via a connecting flight through Dubai.

“This was not the plan, to fly into a war zone,” one of the trip organizers Mitchell Silber told The New York Times, saying it was surprising even for seasoned law enforcement officers.

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Tennessee church group safe in Israel, ‘exploring options’ for return

A group of 12 travelers from First Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, went to Israel to follow the historical footsteps of Jesus, and now is exploring alternative ways to get out of a country that has become a war zone.

While the group might be able to depart on its scheduled flight Oct. 21, armed conflict with Hamas could render its travel plans impossible.

“We are exploring options for alternative travel in the event that we realize even where we are is unsafe,” Senior Pastor Brent McDougal told Knox News, part of the USA TODAY Network, on Monday, Oct. 9, from Jerusalem, where he said the group was safe. “In the meantime, we plan to continue with as much of our itinerary until we believe that it’s just untenable to stay. … We’re seeking to be wise in our decisions and ask people to pray for us.”

The group, which arrived in Tel Aviv on Oct. 6, is scheduled to fly out of the city but might seek options for a flight from another country or leave sooner if violence reaches Jerusalem. For now, they are enclosed in the Old City section of Jerusalem, where sacred sites like the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock mosque rest within ancient walls.

More:Thousands across US gather for vigils, protests over Israel-Hamas war: ‘Broken the hearts of many people’

Missouri church group on Holy Land pilgrimage now in Jordan

A group of 42 from the Morning Star Church in Dardenne Prairie, Missouri, was on a pilgrimage in Israel when the conflict broke out, reported KSDK, a St. Louis NBC affiliate.

“I know they heard sirens, I know there was a lot of concern,” Morning Star Church member Trevor Wolfe told KSDK.

Pastor Mike Schreiner has been releasing video updates from abroad on Facebook. Initially the group planned to fly out of Jerusalem Sunday, but they took a bus across the border to Jordan after their flights were canceled.

They hope to be safe from the conflict in Jordan and will take varied flight paths back to the U.S., according to KSDK.

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