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August 25, 2009

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Brit here solves Seattle case of mystery man

A BRITISH expat who works in Shanghai was still marveling yesterday about how he helped establish the identity of an amnesia-stricken man in Seattle and became part of a media sensation in America.

The odd chain of events began on July 30 when a man in his 50s wandered out off Seattle's Discovery Park and declared he had lost part of his memory.

The dehydrated man had no idea who he was, where he came from or what he was doing in US West Coast city. Fluent in English, French and German, he did know a lot about European culture and history and said he believed he'd traveled around the world.

The Seattle media reported the news last Thursday and asked anyone who knew the mystery man to get in touch.

Within hours of posting the story online, police in Seattle received a call from David Akast, a 33-year-old British national who works as the east China director for Reallyenglish, an e-learning company, and saw the story on the Website.

Amazing face

"I was amazed by the picture when I opened the Website," Akast said. "I knew the man. We were colleagues in Xi'an."

Akast recognized the man as Edward Lighthart, an American, and called three of his ex-colleagues for confirmation.

"The police were surprised that the American man was first recognized by a British man in Shanghai," Akast said.

He told Shanghai Daily that he met Lighthart in Xi'an in 2006 while both were working for an English language school in the capital of northern China's Shaanxi Province.

"I knew he was new there; so we had a cup of coffee together, and I told him some tips on living in China," said Akast.

That brief meeting left a deep impression on Akast.

"He was a nice man and was really, really well educated," Akast said. "He had been in Paris and Vienna for 20 years and then came to China."

The story of Akast's identification made headlines in dozens of US newspapers and on TV networks, including CNN, Fox and NBC.

Media star

Akast received scores of e-mails from journalists when he opened his computer on Friday and was interviewed by many reporters over the following days.

After emerging from the park, Lighthart was admitted to Seattle's Swedish Medical Center, where he is trying to put his life back together.

Other details have emerged since Akast's discovery.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Lighthart received a master of arts degree from the University of Chicago in 1990.

His sister told the Seattle Times he'd been living with her recently in Las Vegas and that the two had a falling-out because he had no job and wasn't paying rent. She said Lighthart took off, leaving all of his belongings.

She also told the newspaper Lighthart had a history of emotional problems.

At a news conference on Friday, the former mystery man told reporters he still wasn't comfortable being called Edward Lighthart.

He thanked The Times for helping him find his real name but said he's still confused, frustrated, scared and lonely.

"It's like a jigsaw puzzle, with pieces all over the place that don't have any interlocking joints yet," Lighthart said.


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