Israel-Hamas conflict: A mother shielding her son, a 26yo at a music festival, brothers among Americans killed in Israel

By Alberto Moya, David Williams, Christina Zdanowicz, Chris Boyette, Sabrina Souza, Caroll Alvarado, Whitney Wild, Ryan Young, Bob Ortega and Mallika Kallingal of CNN 

A mother who shielded her son from gunfire, a "pro-peace" academic, young people at a musical festival and a pair of brothers are among at least 32 Americans killed in the warfare between Israel and Hamas, family members and officials say. 

"Mom and dad, they sacrificed their lives to save me," 16-year-old Israeli American Rotem Matias told CNN of two of the victims killed after the Gaza-based militant group launched a devastating attack on Israel early October 7, leaving at least 1400 dead.

The tally of Americans slain has reached 32 in Israel and 11 remain unaccounted for, State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said Thursday. 

Miller did not say how many of the unaccounted for are believed to be held hostage by Hamas, but said securing their release remains a top priority and "that work is ongoing." 

In response to the attacks, Israel has pounded Gaza with airstrikes. More than 3,500 people have been killed in Gaza, including at least 1500 children, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza. More than 12,500 others have been wounded. 

It's unclear whether any US citizens are among those killed or injured in Gaza, and medical care has been hampered by Israel cutting power to Gaza. 

As families in the US wait for information about their missing loved ones, others are confronted with the sudden loss of siblings, children or parents. 

Here is what we know about some of the Americans who have died in Israel: 

Missing American woman confirmed dead 

Adrienne Neta, a 66-year-old US citizen reported missing from Kibbutz Be'eri after a Hamas attack, has died. 

Israeli authorities gave the family DNA confirmation of her body, her son Nahar Neta told CNN, adding he has no information about the circumstances of her death. 

Adrienne Neta had been on the phone with her children, who were trying to calm her down, as she heard gunfire outside her home and terrorists burst in, Nahar Neta said at a news conference. 

Brothers killed in their village 

Brothers Igal Wachs, 53, and Amit Wachs, 48, were killed when Hamas gunmen stormed their village of Netiv HaAsara, which borders Gaza, Igal's ex-wife Liat Oren-Wachs told CNN. 

Both were dual Israeli American citizens and members of the village's security team, said Oren-Wachs, who said she believes the pair were killed trying to defend their community. Amit had lived in Netiv HaAsara all his life and leaves behind a wife, two daughters and a son, Oren-Wachs said. 

"They were both very family-oriented," she said. 

Festival organiser killed at music event 

Israeli American Daniel Ben Senior, 34, who attended the Nova music festival near the Gaza-Israel border, is also among the dead, her father Jacob Ben Senior told CNN. 

She had been working with event organisers at the festival, which was supposed to be an all-night dance party to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. 

But the festival turned into a scene of carnage when Hamas gunmen attacked, killing at least 260 people

Danielle Ben Senior
Danielle Ben Senior was attending the Nova festival and has been reported missing. Photo credit: Courtesy Jacob Ben Senior

Slain parents wanted peace for their kids 

Sixteen-year-old Rotem's parents wanted him and his sisters to be happy and whimsical. 

"They wanted us to be joyful. They wanted us to be in peace," Rotem said after his mother Deborah Matias died as she put herself between him and the terrorists; his father also was killed. 

Deborah had been on the phone with her father when Hamas attackers killed her, relatives said. 

Terrorists used explosives to get in the front door and blast open the door to their safe room, said her dad, Ilan Troen, a professor emeritus from Brandeis University in Massachusetts. 

One of the bullets that struck Deborah also hit Rotem in the stomach. 

"The brunt of the shot was borne by his mother," Troen said. 

At first, Rotem lay under her body. 

Then he hid under a blanket in the laundry. 

The teenager hid for more than 12 hours after he was shot, texting on his phone with people who were coaching him on how to breathe and how to manage "the blood that was coming out of his abdomen," Troen said. 

His phone had only 4 percent charge when he was rescued, Troen said. 

Now, Rotem is recovering from the wound to his abdomen. 

Deborah Matias had attended the Rimon School of Music in the Tel Aviv area, where she met her husband, Troen told CNN. 

"Deborah was a child of light and life," he said. "She, rather than becoming a scientist or a physician, she said to me one day, 'Dad, I have to do music, because it's in my soul.'" 

Rotem, meanwhile, is keeping the bullet to help him to never forget his parents. 

"They won't die there," he added. "They won't die. They will live on in memories and in stories." 

Deborah and Shlomi Matias
Deborah and Shlomi Matias were killed by Hamas militants over the weekend. Photo credit: Courtesy Ilan Troen

An academic who was 'pro-peace' 

Hayim Katsman was "very pro-peace" and had supported "a solution for this bleeding conflict" between Israel and Palestinians before he was killed, his sibling told CNN. 

Noy Katsman, who is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, last heard from their brother that Saturday morning when he wrote to say there were terrorists in Kibbutz Holit, in southwest Israel near Gaza, they said. 

When they tried to reach their brother again about four hours later, there was no response. 

Hayim Katsman's friend, Avital Alajem, had hid with him inside a shelter's closet when gunmen began firing at the door - striking Katsman multiple times - Alajem said. 

"He was murdered," Alajem told CNN. "I was saved because he was next to the door, and they shot him." 

Katsman, who was a US citizen, was a "brilliant academist," a musician who DJ'd and played bass, and a volunteer at the community garden in the city of Rahat, his sibling said. 

He earned his PhD in international studies from the University of Washington's Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies in 2021 and was described as "an emerging scholar in the field of Israel Studies" in a statement issued by the Association for Israel Studies. 

Noy Katsman hoped their brother's death will not be used "as an excuse to kill other innocent people," they said, adding: "He wouldn't have wanted that." 

A 21-year-old Israeli American soldier 

Israeli American Roey Weiser was killed during the October 7 attack, his mother Naomi Feifer-Weiser told CNN. The 21-year-old was a sergeant who served in the 13th Battalion of the Golani Brigade and was stationed at the Kerem Shalom border crossing, she said. 

"He died how he lived, by putting others first, and when his base was overrun by terrorists, he went on his own to divert their attention allowing others to escape. Because of his bravery, at least 12 other soldiers are alive today," Weiser's mother said. 

The family was finally able to retrieve her son's body three days after the attack, she said. The funeral was held the next day. 

"Roey lived his life to the fullest, almost always with a smile on his face," the mother said. "He was always looking for ways to help those around him, and before he was conscripted, he was a volunteer firefighter who was always the first to jump into action when needed." 

Weiser's parents were born and raised in the US and now live in Israel. 

A 20-year-old who cared for wounded soldiers 

A 20-year-old New Jersey-born, Israeli soldier Itay Glisko died in the attacks, his relatives told CNN. Soldiers later visited his parents' home to tell them of his death, said Rachel Glisko, Itay's aunt who lives in Los Angeles. 

His parents had been waiting for days to hear "any shred of evidence" of their son's whereabouts, the aunt said, but "nobody knew what was going on with him." 

Itay Glisko fought like a "lion" against Hamas until the end, his aunt said. 

"Since yesterday, we can't stop crying. I don't believe it, can't believe it," she said. "He took care of them, he was fighting and was taking care of his fellow soldiers who got wounded." 

Glisko was kind and generous and "didn't complain about anything in the army," his aunt said. 

"He was really a fighter. He fought for Israel," she added. 

His parents and family are devastated. 

"He's only 20 years old. He's not going to have girlfriend, not going to have kids, not going to have a wedding. It's done," she said through tears. "This family have (a) big hole in hearts, not going to recover from that." 

A son 'passionate about protecting his country' 

Aryeh Shlomo Ziering, a 27-year-old dual Israeli American citizen, was killed in Israel, his aunt Debby Ziering confirmed to CNN. 

He was a captain in the Israeli Defense Forces' dog-handling unit. 

Aryeh Shlomo Ziering's parents, who are from New York and Maine, moved to Israel after they married. Born and raised in Israel, Ziering attended summer camp in the United States and grew up speaking English with his parents, his aunt said. 

Aryeh also grew up not wanting to be a soldier, but "when my nephew does something, he does it 200%. And he was very passionate about protecting his country," his aunt told CNN. 

He was a "fun-loving, athletic, great kid," she said. 

A young woman celebrating at a music festival 

Danielle Waldman, who was born in Palo Alto, California, was attending the music festival in Israel with her boyfriend of six years when both were killed, her father Eyal Waldman told CNN. 

"I had hoped and thought that they may have been taken hostages to Gaza and that we would see them again," he said. 

"Each and everyone that met her have loved her," Eyal tearfully recalled of his youngest daughter. "She's done nothing wrong and nothing bad to anyone." 

The last time Eyal spoke with Danielle, she mentioned she had decided with her boyfriend that they would get married soon, he said. The two, with their dog, had moved into, refurbished and redecorated a new apartment several weeks before they were killed. 

"We will bury them together," her father said. 

A couple recently returned to Israel 

Cindy Flash, 67, was a dual citizen and a native of St. Paul, Minnesota. Her husband, Igal Flash, 66, was born in Israel, the son of Holocaust survivors. 

The couple is among dozens killed in one of the grisliest scenes emerging from the Hamas attack on Israel, their daughter Keren Flash, 34, told CNN. 

Cindy and Igal Flash were killed in the safe room of the home they'd moved back into only weeks earlier in Kfar Aza, a southern Israel kibbutz close to the Israeli-Gaza border, their daughter said. 

"The last message my mom sent was at 4:59 p.m. on Saturday (October 7), and she said, 'They're breaking into the house,'" Keren said. 

Three minutes later, Cindy texted attackers had broken into the safe room. 

"That was the last time anyone heard from them," their daughter said. 

Cindy was "all heart and soul," Keren said. Igal was the strong and silent type with a sweet soul. 

Cindy had had unwavering hope in humanity, even protesting Israeli military action in Gaza, Keren said. 

"They were some of the best people that I have ever known," Keren said. "They were good people. They cared about other people. They fought for other people's rights and other people's voices." 

A heroic festivalgoer 

Jonathan Rom, an Israeli American, was killed in the Hamas attack on the Nova music festival, his family said. 

Rom was trying to help a young woman escape when he encountered heavy gunfire, his cousin Daniel Zaken told CNN. 

Rom, who was born in South Carolina, had lived in Israel for several years, Zaken said. 

"It's just helplessness," he told CNN. "It's just unbelievable that they've been even able to do something like this." 

A family torn apart 

Israel resident Ranae Butler's family was once a "big, beautiful tribe," she said. 

The attack by Hamas on the Nir Oz kibbutz - one of the worst hit near Gaza, not far from the Nova music festival - changed everything. 

"Half our family is gone," Butler told "CNN News Central." 

Six relatives, including at least five US citizens, were among those killed by Hamas near the Gaza Strip, she said. 

Butler's mother, Carol Siman Tov, 70, and her brother, Johnny Siman Tov, 36, texted her after they fled to safe rooms at their separate houses on the kibbutz during the attack, Butler said. 

Johnny and his wife, Tamar Kedem-Siman Tov, 35, hid with their three children - twins Arbel and Shachar, 5, and Omer, 2 - Butler said. 

Carol fled home with her dog, Charlie, Butler said. Johnny texted his sister, she said: 

"They're here. They're burning us. We're suffocating." 

Johnny and his wife were shot through a window, and Carol was shot to death in her own safe room, Butler said. 

Carol, Johnny and the three children were US citizens, Butler said; Tamar's citizenship wasn't immediately clear. 

Several other family members living at Nir Oz survived the attack, Butler said, including two of her brothers, two sisters and her father, Larry Butler, also US citizens. Her brother Shachar Butler, who was head of security for the kibbutz, was shot and is recuperating, she said. 

"They barely put on their boots and pants, and ran and fought in bravery," Butler said. 

"We're crying and hugging," she said. "They've all been through hell." 

An aspiring DJ who loved nature 

Twenty-year-old Laor Abramov's dream was to be a DJ like his father, David. 

The permanent US resident was killed in the attack on Israel by Hamas, his mother Michal Halev told CNN. 

"This was our worst nightmare," Halev said, after getting word of his death. 

Abramov had been attending a nature party with his friends when his family lost contact with him. 

His parents shared a photo of him in a shelter with CNN. They believe he was hiding out in a border city near Gaza, they said. 

"We have been calling and texting and emailing and just sending photos on social media and asking everyone we know," Abramov's mother said. 

Laor loved being in nature with his friends, his mother said. 

A son who died fighting on the front lines 

Yannai Kaminka, a dual Israeli American citizen born and raised in Israel, died there while fighting on the front lines, his mother Elana Kaminka told CNN. 

The 20-year-old was stationed on a base in southern Israel, near Gaza, when the October 7 attacks began. 

Over an hour of fighting, he and five officers saved more than 90 others - including most of the base's young trainees - and stopped Hamas militants from attacking a nearby kibbutz, she said. 

Elana Kaminka was not surprised her son put himself on the front lines, she said. 

"He saw himself as the person who needs to protect other people and who takes responsibility for other people, and that was a line that went through him throughout his life," she said. 

Kaminka had always been focused on helping other people, his mom said. He was a Scouts counselor, a volunteer with at-risk youth and later served as a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, she said. 

He would have turned 21 on October 30, she said. 

The family last spoke to Yannai Kaminka the day before he died. They were supposed to visit him on the day of the attacks, his mother said. 

"None of us could have imagined in our worst nightmares that he would be on the front line in this war, protecting other people's lives and keeping other people safe behind him," Elana Kaminka said. 

"We lost the most important thing to us," she said. "The idea of more lives lost just tears me apart because I know what it means to lose your child."