Disappearance of Saudi student last seen in New Orleans remains a mystery eight months later _lowres

Mohammed "Mo" Alghannam

The trail has run cold for a mechanical engineering student from Saudi Arabia who disappeared in New Orleans in late March after visiting Bourbon Street, authorities said Tuesday.

Over the past eight months, investigators have subpoenaed cellphone records, interviewed family members and, most recently, entered a relative’s DNA into a database of unidentified bodies, looking for a match. But even a private investigator has been unable to find Mohammed “Mo” Abdulmohsen Alghannam, a 25-year-old photography aficionado who had been studying at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

“Family at home and here were very surprised that he went missing,” said Natasha Sobers, executive assistant of the Heidi Search Center in Texas. “Nobody at home has heard from him either, and they are very concerned.”

Alghannam, who lived with his sister in San Antonio, boarded a bus March 24 to Houston, where he met an uncle who had gone to the city to visit family and the Saudi consulate there, according to court documents filed in New Orleans.

The two grabbed a meal at a Whataburger before driving overnight to New Orleans, arriving about 5 a.m. March 25.

After finding the hotels in the French Quarter too expensive, they booked three nights at the Extended Stay America off Interstate 10 in Metairie, checking in about 6:40 a.m.

The uncle, known as Fadhel, told the authorities that Alghannam paid his half of the $300 stay in cash, adding that his nephew “usually paid for everything with a debit/credit card and it was not normal for him to pay cash,” according to court papers filed by the State Police.

The pair went to Bourbon Street the following night but did not drink any alcohol, according to the uncle, returning to the hotel between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m.

The court filings say “Fadhel did not want to visit Bourbon Street any longer and decided that he would return to Arkansas,” where he apparently was studying. Alghannam eventually asked his uncle to drop him off at Bourbon Street on his way out of town, according to the records.

The uncle told authorities he left Alghannam near Bourbon Street about 9:30 p.m. March 28 — the last time he saw him — and then drove overnight to Conway, Arkansas, sending his nephew a text when he arrived at 5:02 a.m.

Fadhel received a response several hours later, according to court records. It said: “Great! Glad to hear that.”

A second text from Alghannam followed: “Hope you rest well.”

Fadhel told authorities he assumed his nephew took a bus back to San Antonio but that he had not seen a ticket.

Sgt. Nick Manale, a State Police spokesman, said investigators found no signs that Alghannam remained in New Orleans.

Authorities sought to interview Alghannam’s girlfriend, a Florida woman he would at times visit “without notifying anyone,” according to court records. They subpoenaed her cellphone records after she “refused to cooperate with the investigation,” the court filings say.

The Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C., did not respond to an email seeking information Tuesday, and a woman who answered the telephone said she had no details on the case. Court records, however, say the Saudi government “had been made aware of (Alghannam’s) sudden disappearance and is involved in attempting to locate his whereabouts.”

Alghannam had been in the United States on a student visa, but federal authorities say his status in the Student and Exchange Visitor Program has been terminated since his disappearance. A University of Texas at San Antonio spokeswoman said he is no longer enrolled at the university.

“Even though he was struggling in school, it would be unusual for him to just give up,” said Michelle Willingham, an investigator with the San Antonio Police Department. “It’s still an open case, but it’s kind of dormant.”

Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.