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City officials say body pulled from Highland Park reservoir had been there a month

The mayor stands between officials while speaking from a podium.
Gino Fanelli
Mayor Malik Evans speaks to the media on Thursday, March 21, 2024, about a body found in the Highland Park reservoir. Standing with him are Police Chief David Smith and Environmental Services Commissioner Rich Perrin.

The body of a man found in the Highland Park reservoir Tuesday had been in the water for nearly a month, city officials announced Tuesday.

That revelation came after review of surveillance footage of the reservoir in the day following the body’s discovery.

While the video was not shared with the press, city officials described the man as acting erratically around the edge of the water after climbing the fence on the morning of Feb. 24, a Saturday. The man then slipped and fell into the water.

There is no suspected foul play, and the death is believed to be unintentional. Mayor Malik Evans said the man was 29-year-old Abdullahi Muya. Muya, a refugee from Somalia who suffered from mental health issues, was last seen by his family on Feb. 18 on Van Aucker Street, about two miles from the reservoir.

“I’m very concerned that someone was able to breach that water system,” Mayor Malik Evans said, while adding that he has no concerns about water quality. “No one should be able to get into a reservoir. Those stakes are extremely high. There are cameras everywhere. That's what we need to get to the bottom of, is how someone was able to breach that?”

The advisory covered parts of the Center City and parts of the west side. It had been put in place after a body was found in the Highland Park reservoir.

The body was discovered this week by city workers during a routine daily check of the reservoir. Why it was not noticed for 24 days, nor the surveillance footage reviewed, remains unclear. Evans said the body was below the surface, up against the inlet structure in the shadows of the north side of the reservoir.

The Highland Park reservoir is outfitted with multiple forms of surveillance, including thermal cameras and motion detectors. But those systems did not alert workers when Muya climbed the fence. Evans was unclear on how regularly surveillance cameras are reviewed.

“There was no indication that something was happening, so that footage was probably not looked at at the time,” Evans said. “That’s something that I will be asking for and looking at.”

The city has begun the process of draining and cleaning the reservoir, a regular process originally scheduled for May, but moved up due to the body’s discovery.

While initial testing of the water found no evidence of contaminants, the city and Monroe County issued a boil water advisory Tuesday afternoon. That advisory remained in effect through Wednesday, as the city awaited coliform bacteria tests from the water. It was lifted early Thursday.

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Gino Fanelli is an investigative reporter who also covers City Hall. He joined the staff in 2019 by way of the Rochester Business Journal, and formerly served as a watchdog reporter for Gannett in Maryland and a stringer for the Associated Press.
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