The family of John Allen Chau, who was allegedly murdered by the indigenous Sentinelese tribe after he illegally entered their island in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, on Thursday said they had “forgiven” his killers, BBC reported. Meanwhile, Indian authorities said they were still attempting to retrieve Chau’s body from the protected island.

A statement purportedly released by his family as well as media reports said that the 27-year-old was a Christian missionary who wanted to “bring the gospel to the island’s tribesmen”. The family also requested the release of the seven fishermen arrested for allegedly taking Chau to the isolated island.

The Sentinelese, whose population was around 40 in 2011, have been known to resist any contact with the outside world. Chau was attacked with bows and arrows after he landed on the island on November 16, the fishermen told the police. They claimed to have seen the island’s indigenous people drag him to the beach before they lost sight of him.

The police are using helicopters to search for the body but said the mission was challenging because of the legal restrictions and the protected tribe’s alleged hostility. “We have to take care that we must not disturb them or their habitat by any means,” Dependra Pathak, director-general of police on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands told AFP. “It is a highly sensitive zone and it will take some days.”

The police are consulting experts including Indian anthropologists and tribal welfare and forest officers to help them with the operation.

The officer told News18 that Chau was held hostage for two days inside the forest before he was killed.

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John Allen Chau

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The family’s statement, posted on what appears to be Chau’s Instagram account, said he “had nothing but love for the Sentinelese people. We forgive those reportedly responsible for his death.”

Excerpts from Chau’s purported journal, published in The Washington Post, indicate that it was not the first time he visited the island. “Do not blame the natives if I am killed,” one of the entries said. His mother Lynda Adams-Chau told the US daily that her prayers had led her to believe that her son is still alive.

The National Commission of Scheduled Tribes described the killing as “unfortunate” and sought an immediate report from the Ministry of Home Affairs as well as the Andaman and Nicobar administration, PTI reported.

Survival International, a movement for Adivasi rights, had issued a statement accusing the Indian government of failing to protect the Sentinelese people and their island for the safety of both the tribe and outsiders.