The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo has tentatively identified the body of Taylor Anderson, a 24-year-old English teacher from Virginia. According to the Associated Press, Anderson is believed to be the first identified American victim of the earthquake and tsunami disasters.
Anderson was fluent in Japanese and was teaching English in one of the country's coastal cities when the massive tsunami struck. Nearly 13,000 people are believed to be missing in the devastating earthquake and tsunami aftermath.
Taylor's parents had not heard from their daughter since that fateful day and released a statement Monday with the distressing news.
"It is with deep regret that we inform you that earlier this morning we received a call from the U.S. Embassy in Japan that they had found our beloved Taylor's body. We would like to thank all those whose prayers and support have carried us through this crisis. Please continue to pray for all who remain missing and for the people of Japan. We ask that you respect our privacy during this hard time," the statement said.
Anderson had been teaching in the city of Ishinomaki -- about 240 miles north of Tokyo -- for the past two and a half years as part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. Ishinomaki is located in the Miyagi Prefecture, a coastal area that took the full force of the tsunami.
After ensuring parents retrieved each of her students following the earthquake, Taylor was last seen as she rode her bicycle from the school toward her apartment before the tsunami struck.
Once word reached her home community in Virginia, neighbors and friends organized a grassroots internet-based search for Taylor, sending her picture and information to contacts in Japan. At least 4,500 tweets were sent out in an effort to spread word about the missing teacher.
The Anderson family previously received news that Taylor was safe and in a shelter, but that information was wrong.
Jean Anderson said her daughter fell in love with Japanese culture when she was just a child. After becoming fluent in Japanese, she was accepted into a teaching program and moved there. “The people are lovely and gracious,” she said. “We knew she was happy, and we were happy for her.”
"She enjoyed her life there," Mrs. Anderson told NHK World. During a visit home, Taylor had brought wind chimes home as a gift from Japan.
"When we hear the bells ringing, when we hear the wind chimes ringing, we say it's Taylor talking to us," she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.