PORTLAND – Police confirmed this afternoon that they found the body of missing Harvard student Nathan Bihlmaier in Portland Harbor earlier today.
His body is being taken to Augusta for an autopsy, authorities said.
Police identified Bihlmaier by his clothing – a black windbreaker, blue pants, a gray T-shirt and a blue webbed belt – which witnesses and security cameras confirmed he was wearing when he went missing early Sunday morning in the Old Port.
Bihlmaier, a Harvard Business School student and expecting father, had come to Portland this weekened with two friends to celebrate his pending graduation from the prestigious business school.
Graduation is scheduled for Thursday.
Portland Police Department and Maine State Police divers searched for more than two days for Bihlmaier’s body in Portland Harbor, after his phone stopped sending signals at 12:54 a.m. Sunday morning.
But shortly after noon Tuesday, a hearse pulled up to the Portland Ocean terminal along the waterfront, between the megaberth and the Maine State Pier. It met the Portland Fire Boat and one of the active search boats, before leaving the scene around 12:45 p.m.
Brian Kenny, a spokesman for Harvard Business School who has spoken on behalf of the family during this ordeal, said the family is “very upset, stressed.”
“I think we were all holding out hope he was alive,” Kenny said.
The dean of Harvard Business School, Nithin Nohria, who attended the press conference, said the school was a very tight-knit group, and the tragedy has shaken the community.
At the press conference, police also updated the timeline prior to Bihlmaier’s disappearance.
They said Bihlmaier was actually asked to leave Ri Ra Irish Pub at 11:30 p.m., not at 12:20 a.m., as they’d previously stated. The previous timeline was based on the recollections of friends, employees and bar patrons. The new timeline is based on security-camera footage.
Shortly after midnight, Bihlmaier tried to describe the United States Customhouse to his friends so they could rendezvous. But Bihlmaier’s friends did not see him again that night, and when he had not returned to where they were staying at the Hilton Garden Inn by 9 a.m. Sunday, they called police.
Police found a tan flipflop in the water Monday, which they say also belonged to Bihlmaier.
This story will be updated.
Police continued to search Tuesday for a missing Harvard Business School student last seen more than two days ago near the waterfront in the city’s Old Port.
Police divers searched the harbor along the waterfront for Nathan Bihlmaier, 31, whose wife is pregnant with their first child. They left the water near the Casco Bay Ferry terminal about 6:30 p.m. Monday, and returned to the water at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
Divers were particularly focused Tuesday on areas around Ri Ra Irish Pub on Commericial Street, where Bihlmaier was last seen. Boats patrolled the misty harbor, looking for any signs of Bihlmaier.
While divers resumed their search, friends of Bihlmaier somberly waited along the shore as police scoured the harbor bottom. Some canvassed the area and put up posters with Bihlmaier’s face.
Members of the Maine State Police dive team were using side-scanning sonar equipment Tuesday morning, which enabled them to broaden their search. The apparatus generated an image of the ocean bottom, enabling authorities to search farther into the bay, said Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck.
But Portland Police Lt. Gary Rogers said the location of the search presented some specific challenges.
“If someone was to go in right off the pier, there’s a lot of debris and it’s difficult to navigate and see what’s down there,” Rogers said.
Sauschuck said the department was using all its available resources to solve the mystery, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
“Obviously, this is something we have a full court press on,” Sauschuck said. “We have a great deal of resources involved in this and will continue until we’re able to bring some answers home to the family.”
“It’s a very traumatic time for the family. I have had the opportunity to meet his parents as well as Nate’s wife and they’re doing the best they can given the circumstances,” Sauschuck said. “It’s a scary time for everybody. They’re very strong, caring folks and I wish I had the opportunity to meet them under different circumstances.”
Bihlmaier was in town Saturday with a couple of friends to celebrate their upcoming graduation from the prestigious business school in Cambridge, Mass.
The three were in Ri Ra on Commercial Street late Saturday when Bihlmaier was told to leave because he had had too much to drink, police said.
Police on Sunday found an article of clothing they believe belonged to Bihlmaier in water just south of the Maine State Pier, although they would not describe the item. There were no indications that Bihlmaier was a victim of foul play, police said.
On Monday, police also canvassed businesses in the area to retrieve security video that might show Bihlmaier at some point after he left the bar, which overlooks the harbor, Sauschuck said at a Monday news conference on the waterfront.
Bihlmaier left the bar unbeknownst to his friends, but called them a few times by cellphone before 1 a.m., when police say the phone stopped working. Whether this was due to a dead battery or from being in the water is unclear.
In one of those final phone calls, Bihlmaier said he was in front of a building on Commercial Street and described it in an attempt to rendezvous with his friends. Police wouldn’t say which building he described.
Bihlmaier’s friends did not see him again that night and when he had not returned to where they were staying at the Hilton Garden Inn by 9 a.m. Sunday, they called police.
“There’s certainly a possibility that Nate could be lost in our fair city or maybe caught a ride somewhere, but given the information we have at hand, we are concerned with the proximity of the waterfront to where he was last seen and so we are looking with the dive team,” Sauschuck said.
Bilhmaier was asked to leave Ri Ra because he was intoxicated but had not been in an altercation with anybody, Sauschuck said.
Divers from Portland and South Portland police spent several hours Monday searching waterfront piers and pilings, and even used a search and rescue dog with a keen sense of smell positioned on the bow of a rigid inflatable boat.
A representative from Sen. Olympia Snowe’s office attended Monday’s press conference and said that some colleagues of Snowe in the Senate had asked her to keep them informed about the search. Apparently, some children of U.S. senators are fellow students at the top-flight business school, said Cheryl Leeman, who also is a Portland city councilor.
Family members and many of his fellow Harvard Business School colleagues kept a vigil Monday as they waited for news about the search.
Brian Kenny, a spokesman for Harvard Business School, said Bihlmaier is a popular student and some 18 to 20 fellow students drove to Portland to offer support to his wife and parents.
“His friends describe him as really one top-notch guy,” Kenny said.
Bihlmaier had already started working at a health care technology company and was looking forward to graduation, he said.
“I’m told he is really passionate about health care. That’s why he chose that for his career,” Kenny said.
Family and friends are trying to stay positive, he said.
“We do remain hopeful, despite signs to the contrary,” Kenny said from a spot inside the Hilton Garden Inn, not far from the area where police divers have been searching alongside the Maine State Pier. “It’s important if anybody saw him, we want to hear about it. Any information at all.”
Bihlmaier is well-known and well-liked at the prestigious business school, which will graduate 900 students Thursday, he said.
Bihlmaier had already accomplished much, Kenny said. The school is exclusive, accepting only 12 percent of applicants, and is respected around the world, he said.
“Everybody is really, really concerned,” Kenny said. “As students come back for graduation week, this will certainly change the tone.”
Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]