GRAND RAPIDS TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Isaac Danian’s bedroom hasn’t changed much since he last walked out the door of his family’s metro Grand Rapids home in September 2020.
He was headed to Hawaii, looking to get off the grid, driven by conspiracies about COVID-19 and fueled by his new guru. He had just turned 20.
“It makes me feel closer to him when I do sit in here and kind of like meditate on his pictures and his belongings,” his mom Abi Danian said. “His smell kind of remains in here a little bit.”
On the nightstand next to his bed, she keeps the 500-page French police report about the disappearance of her son and another man from a sailboat in the South Pacific.
“There are a handful of theories of what could have happened to him and they picked the drowning as the most logical explanation,” she said. “For me, it’s like if somebody said your child is probably dead, would you just go on with your life? Mourn the loss?”
She first spoke to Target 8 about the disappearance a year ago, then recently to The New York Times. The family also created a “Find Calvin Isaac Danian” Facebook page and has worked with the U.S. State Department and the office of U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer.
Abi Danian hangs on to the belief that her son is alive and in hiding off the grid.
More than 4,000 miles away in Hawaii, Capt. Jeff McKinley is haunted by the disappearance. He was captain of one of two boats that were supposed to sail in tandem on the more than 50-day trip from Hawaii south to the Cook Islands.
Isaac Danian was on the other sailboat along with the other man who disappeared, 26-year-old Shukree Abdul-Rashed of Rochester, New York.
“I’ve had a lot of thoughts about if they were still alive or not,” McKinley told News 8. “I don’t know.”
He thinks it’s possible, though he said it’s more likely they didn’t survive.
In the months leading up to the voyage, Isaac Danian’s mental state had been growing progressively worse.
“This was during COVID, remember, so it was 2020, there were the worldwide marches going on, there was the election, there was COVID, all of this stuff, just like the perfect storm, then the manifestation of his disease,” his mom said.
His family believes he developed a schizoaffective disorder.
“He thoroughly believed that people would be coming to our house to make us conform to things, like getting the COVID shot, if we didn’t want to,” his mom said. “He thought we should sell our house and move to a bunker. He would literally follow me around the house telling me that’s what we should do, that we don’t need any worldly possessions, that we just need to go off the grid.”
It was about that time, his mom later learned, that he discovered an online guru who shared his beliefs — a Youtuber who lived in Hawaii and goes by Matthew Mellow and also Mortekai Eleazor. Her son, she said, adopted a fundamentalist religion that wouldn’t allow him to eat pork or wear linens and wool together.
The rest of his family was out of town for the Labor Day weekend in 2020 when he started calling his mom.
“He kept calling us saying that he had this great opportunity in Hawaii, he had to leave right away and he wanted us to buy his car from him so he could have money for the trip,” his mom said. “He wouldn’t tell us any of the details. He just said it was a great opportunity and that he wished he could tell me what it was, but he couldn’t.”
They begged him to stay put. But when they got home, they found the packaging for a burner phone. Isaac Danian was gone.
“He left in what we believe was a manic state,” his mom said.
He called home on Oct. 4, 2020, the day he sailed from Hawaii.
“He told me that he would be off the grid for about 30 days, that he was calling me to let me know so I didn’t worry about him, and that I would hear from him again in about 30 days,” his mom said. “He wanted to talk to his brother and sister. He loves them dearly. They’re the most important things in his life.”
That was the last they heard from him.
“When he didn’t call on his sister’s birthday in February, that’s when we started pursuing a missing person’s report,” his mom said.
In a phone interview, Capt. McKinley told Target 8 that the guru and the guru’s mom were on his 36-foot sailboat, the A-Loona, as they set sail from Hawaii. Isaac Danian and the other man were on a faster sailboat, Zulu Time, operated by Capt. Mike Schmidt. McKinley said he’d spent hours talking with Danian before they sailed. He nicknamed him “Totes,” because he carried three green tote bags.
“This is my opinion on it, he wasn’t really there for the (guru),” McKinley said. “It was more of an adventure.”
McKinley said the guru had offered to pay them $10,000 to sail the nearly 3,000-mile voyage to the Cook Islands.
“We buddy-boated, is what we were supposed to do, but Mike didn’t really want to buddy boat,” he said.
They spent 54 days at sea.
“One time we were within about 8 miles or 10 miles of each other and we could talk to each other on the radio, but he would never get close enough where we could actually see each other,” he said.
That, he said, is unusual for “buddy-boating.”
Another time, the boats got within a mile of each other.
“So I sent him a message and waited for a response,” McKinley said. “I’m going for his boat, you know, I’m aiming at his boat, and he did not stop or slow down; he basically just kept going. He changed the sails and made him go faster.”
He wonders why.
On his boat, McKinley said, the guru obsessed about getting off the grid:
“That’s all he talked about,” he said. “One day, he told me, ‘You know about Christianity, we’re all crazy,’ and I told him he was crazy.”
The guru also grew angry that the trip was taking so long, he said.
“He threatened to kill me, threatened to throw me overboard, threatened to beat me up. I mean, every day he was threatening something,” he said.
It was on Nov. 27, 2020, more than a month into the voyage, when Capt. Schmidt reported that Danian and the other man had jumped from his boat off the southern coast of Wallis Island, a French territory between American Samoa and Fiji. According to French police, the captain said the pair jumped because they feared getting tested for COVID-19 when they docked on the island.
The captain of the second boat isn’t sure what to believe. He wonders if something happened days earlier. There’s a chance, he said, that they’re off the grid.
“I think the only place that they could be would be on American Samoa,” he said. “That’s where they went first, so if there’s any hope at all, that’s where they would be, but I don’t think, I don’t think they’re alive, to be honest with you.”
However, police reports provided by Danian’s mom show a police officer who was out diving while off-duty had spotted the sailboat off Wallis Island with a captain and two passengers. That was after it had left American Samoa.
McKinley, who dropped off the guru and the guru’s mom on Bora Bora, said he saved the coordinates of the boat that carried the missing men. He plans to sail the trip again, hoping it could provide answers.
“I’m going to retrace his steps,” he said. “I hate to think what the final results are going to be.”
Recent reports about Danian’s disappearance still refer to him as a 20-year-old, but that assumes a lot. His mom said he is a strong swimmer. She talks of him in the present tense.
“To me, he’s still alive and we celebrate every birthday that he’s had since he’s been gone,” she said.
Two of them. They’ve saved a piece of each cake. He’s 22, she said.
“I believe he’s alive. I don’t know if it’s mother’s intuition but I still feel his presence here on the earth,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s just insane ignorance and hope. But I feel like he’s still here.”
Target 8 spoke to Schmidt by phone but he refused to talk about the disappearance.
“The last reporter I was working with, he burned me, and I was trying to help him out, so I’m not really appreciative of helping anybody at this point unless they’re paying me,” he said.
“I don’t know why I should help anybody at this point because the mother didn’t want to talk to me or help me. She tried to sue me and sue my insurance company,” he said.
At Schmidt’s request, Target 8 emailed him a list of questions, but he did not respond to them.
The guru could not be reached for comment.