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Missing UCLA Student Found

A disoriented Ahmad Arain spent six weeks in Tijuana, his family says, and is home now.

September 07, 2004|William Lobdell | Times Staff Writer

Ahmad Yaseen Arain, the 20-year-old UCLA honors student who vanished in July while taking a bus to the campus, has been found after spending six weeks disoriented and penniless in Tijuana after an apparent mental breakdown, family members said Monday.

He contacted his family Sunday by e-mail and was picked up that evening by relatives, they said. It's not known how or why he ended up in Tijuana.

The bookish computer science student from Orange, on a full academic scholarship at UCLA, apparently spent about a month on the streets of the Mexican border city, sustained only by drinking water from gas station hoses, his brother, Sulaiman Arain, said.

Two weeks ago, a Mexican family found the disheveled Arain by the side of a road and befriended him, his family said. They took him into their home, giving him food, clothes and shelter, family members said, even though the Mexican family didn't speak English and Arain didn't speak Spanish.

On Sunday, Arain was well enough to send an e-mail to his family, giving them the phone number of where he was staying. After a nerve-racking three-hour effort, they reached him Sunday night, then drove to Tijuana to pick him up.

"We were just so relieved," Sulaiman Arain, 19, said. "It's like a dream come true. Every day, it just got more and more bleak."

Arain, who lost a significant amount of weight in six weeks, was recovering at home Monday and not yet ready to publicly discuss it, his brother said.

A spokesman for the UCLA Police Department, lead investigators in the case, said it learned Sunday that Arain had been found and was gratified that he was home safe.

Arain was the subject of a nationwide search after failing to arrive for an appointment July 23 with his academic counselor at UCLA. He had gotten on a bus in Anaheim and was supposed to arrive in Westwood.

Security tapes showed Arain getting off at a bus stop in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles, short of his destination.

Arain's mother, brother and college roommate had described him as a religious and quiet man who had held the family together since his father's death in 1997. They said it was out of character for Arain not to let them know his whereabouts.

Born in Pakistan, Arain moved to the United States as an infant and is a U.S. citizen, family members said.

To aid in the search, the family hired a private investigator, created a website and offered a $20,000 reward for his safe return.

"We never stopped searching," said Shahid Ali, a 23-year-old friend of Arain's.

The Mexican family was given an undisclosed amount of money for their help, said Rafe Husain, Arain's uncle.

"The Mexican people were really so sweet," Husain said.

Arain's family members said they were grateful to the hundreds of volunteers who helped in the search and prayed for his return. A week ago, a prayer service was held from 2 a.m. to sunrise at the Islamic Society of Orange County mosque in Garden Grove. More than 100 people attended.

Said Husain: "After all that searching, it's just amazing. He shows up in Tijuana. How the heck did he get there?"

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