BAGHDAD – The body of a U.S. soldier found floating in the Euphrates River in Iraq earlier Wednesday was identified as a California man abducted along with two comrades nearly two weeks ago, his aunt confirmed to FOX News.
A military official with police officers visited the home of Pfc. Joseph Anzack Jr. and told his family that a commanding officer identified the body. She said the official told them the GI had died of a gunshot wound to the head.
"They told us we're sorry to inform you the body we found has been identified as Joe," said Debbie Anzack, choking back tears. "I'm in disbelief."
However, Anzack told FOX News that DNA testing had not been completed and that the family — in complete shock — was holding out hope until that is done.
She said that the official who visited didn't ask for anything for a DNA sample but believed the military had something of his they could use.
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Anzack, 20, was one of three soldiers who vanished after their combat team was ambushed May 12 about 20 miles outside of Baghdad. Five others, including an Iraqi, were killed in the ambush, subsequently claimed by al-Qaida.
Thousands of U.S. and Iraqi forces searched desert, lush farmland and even sewage-tainted irrigation ditches for more than a week in temperatures that reached 110-degrees. Another body was found near Anzack's, his aunt said after the briefing from military officials.
However, U.S. military officials had no confirmed that body was a U.S. soldier.
Anzack's family had held out hope for the past 11 days. They had already endured an earlier rumor that he was dead — only to learn he was alive.
About a month ago, messages on the MySpace Web site said the Army gunner had died. South High School in this suburb of about 150,000 residents 20 miles southwest of downtown Los Angeles posted a message on the school's marquee reading: "In Loving Memory Joseph Anzack Class of 2005."
His father, Joseph Anzack, called the Red Cross about the rumors, and military commanders were able to get his son to a phone where he confirmed he was alive and well.
Anzack was a private first class in Company D, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division's 2nd Brigade combat team.
Friends and relatives anxiously awaited word in the hometowns of the other captured soldiers: Spc. Alex R. Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass.; and Pvt. Byron W. Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich.
A yellow ribbon was tied to the front door of Jimenez's father's home in the former mill city north of Boston. Ramon Jimenez, who speaks Spanish, said through a translator in a cell phone conversation that he has been buoyed by the support of friends and family.
"The hope is very high that God is going to give Alex back to him," said Wendy Luzon, a family friend who translated the conversation and has been serving as a spokeswoman for the family.
Iraqi police using civilian boats searched for other bodies on the river in Musayyib, about 40 miles south of Baghdad, and U.S. troops intensified their presence on a nearby bridge as helicopters flew overhead, witnesses said.
Hassan al-Jibouri, 32, said he saw the body with head wounds and whip marks on its back floating on the river Wednesday morning. He and others then alerted police.
Complete coverage is available in FOXNews.com's Iraq Center.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.