A two-day search for a missing Harvard University student came to a tragic end Tuesday when police divers recovered his body from Portland Harbor, a short distance from the waterfront Irish pub where Nathan Bihlmaier celebrated with friends before he disappeared.
Just before noon, divers found his body on the harbor floor beside a wharf near the Ri Ra Irish Pub where Bihlamier was last seen around 11:30 Saturday night. Authorities identified his body by his clothing.
His body was sent for an autopsy, but police do not believe his death was suspicious.
“There’s no evidence of anything nefarious,” said Michael Sauschuck, Portland’s police chief. “It’s a tragedy all the way around.”
A Kansas native, Bihlmaier leaves a pregnant wife. He was set to graduate from Harvard Business School this week, and had gone to Portland with friends to celebrate.
On Saturday, Bihlmaier was asked to leave Ri Ra because he was intoxicated, Sauschuck said. He did so without incident, and video footage showed him leaving at 11:30 p.m.
“He was visibly drunk, but there was no sign of an altercation,” he said.
His friends were initially unaware he had left, but they made contact by phone and spoke several times in an attempt to find each other.
In the final call around 12:15 a.m., Bihlmaier tried to describe his whereabouts and said he was in front of a large, official-looking building. That may have been the US Custom House, a short distance from the bar, Sauschuck said. But even though phone records indicate he never wandered far from the waterfront area, his friends were unable to find him. Police determined that his mobile phone stopped sending signals shortly before 1 a.m.
When Bihlmaier hadn’t returned to the hotel by 9 the next morning, friends reported him missing. While friends and family held out hope for his safe return, investigators focused their search on the water. His car and belongings were untouched, and banking and cell phone records indicated no activity.
“Everything put him down at the waterfront in a intoxicated state,” Sauschuck said.
Sauschuck said Bihlmaier’s body was found fairly close to shore, but that with the tides it was not clear where he entered the water.
“We may never know,” he said.
Many of Bihlmaier’s friends came to Portland to assist in the search and support his family, he said.
“There really was an outpouring of support,” he said.
A relative of Bihlmaier, reached by phone, declined to comment.
Harvard University expressed their condolences to the family, calling Bihlmaier’s death a “tragic loss.”
“This is a very sad day for all of us at Harvard Business School,” the school said in a statement. “There is a tremendous sense of community here, of camaraderie among students, faculty, and staff. We are all in a state of shock and grief, and our hearts and prayers go out to Nate’s family at this terrible time.”
Police in Portland said other people had accidentally drowned in the harbor and there have been several similar deaths in Boston in recent years.
In 2009, a Quincy man who disappeared while talking to his fiancee on the phone was found dead in the Charles River. William Hurley, a Navy veteran, had just left a Boston Bruins game.
In 2010, the body of a Lawrence man who went missing in the waterfront area was found near Rowes Wharf several months later. Eugene Losik, who was staying with his girlfriend at the Boston Marriott Long Wharf Hotel, was seen on security cameras leaving the waterside hotel alone just before 2:30 a.m.
This spring, the body of a Boston College student, Franco Garcia, was found in the Chestnut Hill Reservoir. An autopsy indicated he accidentally drowned. Garcia was last seen leaving a bar in Cleveland Circle.