Parents plead for help after American student, 22, disappears in France

Image of Ken DeLand in Paris at the top of the Eiffel Tower.

UPDATE: Ken DeLand Jr. was found safely in Spain, and is currently on his way back to the U.S., accompanied by his mother.

ORIGINAL STORY: American college student Kenny DeLand Jr. has been reunited with his mother in Lyon, France, and is on his way back to the US, according to a French diplomatic official.

DeLand Jr., who was reported missing more than two weeks ago in France, told relatives on Friday that he was safe in Spain, his family said.

A college student from New York has been reported missing by fellow students while he was studying abroad in France. He was last seen two weeks ago.

The parents of Ken DeLand Jr., 22, are pleading for the public’s help in finding their son, and have set up a website to share information. The family says they “fear the worst and want him to be located.”

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DeLand’s parents say they last heard from him on Whatsapp on Nov. 27.

“Communication has not happened from his phone or any social media since Sunday, 11/27/2022,” his family writes. “According to authorities, Ken has not made contact with any of the friends he has made in France since 11/27.”

DeLand, a senior a St. John Fisher University in Rochester, N.Y., has been studying abroad at the Université Grenoble Alpes in France. His family says that it’s out of character for DeLand to abruptly drop communication.

According to the family’s website, DeLand’s phone was last pinged on Nov. 30. His phone has not been active since.

The family said they have learned that DeLand left his host family’s residence on Nov. 30 with a change of clothes, wallet, and his cellphone. He left behind his computer, tablet, train pass and phone charger.

A Grenoble public prosecutor confirmed that authorities are investigating DeLand’s disappearance in a statement obtained by multiple news outlets.

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Other students reported DeLand missing on Nov. 29, prosecutor Eric Vaillant said in the statement, which kicked off their investigation.

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“The young man reportedly told several people that he had arrived in France underprepared and was having difficulty making friends,” Vaillant said.

Missing poster made by the family of Ken DeLand, 22, an American student who went missing while studying abroad in France.

“He appears to have left Grenoble voluntarily,” Vaillant added, noting that DeLand “also mentioned that he wanted to go to Marseille before returning to the United States.”

DeLand’s family wrote that the missing student had a conversation with one of his host family’s neighbours on the day he left.

“The neighbor said Ken seemed in bright spirits and excited for the day. We are unaware of the entire discussion or if the neighbor was informed he was planning to travel,” they wrote.

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DeLand appears to have been captured on a video surveillance camera on Dec. 3 in the town of Montélimar, which is about 140 kilometres south of Grenoble by car, according to Vaillant and DeLand’s family.

DeLand entered the store and purchased something for US$8.40 at around 2:45 local time, according to bank statements obtained by his family. He was pictured wearing a red jacket, scarf, grey toque, blue jeans and a black backpack. His family say he is six feet tall and weighs 190 pounds.

Last known image of Ken DeLand, 22, entering a store in Montélimar, France.

DeLand’s father told Good Morning America that his son is a “friendly, outgoing college student.”

“He loves to travel. So, this trip has been something that he’s really looked forward to and enjoyed.”

In a different interview with WHAM, DeLand’s father says he doesn’t understand why his son isn’t reaching out to the family.

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“We just shake our heads,” Ken DeLand, Sr., said. “We don’t understand why he is not reaching out to us… if he was reaching out on a daily basis or every other day like he was — it is just not characteristic of Kenny.”

DeLand’s family said that since their son is on the missing persons list, if he tries to leave France using his passport, authorities will be notified.

DeLand’s study abroad program was supposed to end on Dec. 17 and his student visa expires early next year, the family’s website states.

The U.S. State Department told CNN that they are “aware of reports of a U.S. citizen missing in France.”

“When a U.S. citizen is missing, we work closely with local authorities as they carry out their search efforts, and we share information with families however we can,” the department said.

DeLand’s university in New York said that is assisting in the investigation.

“St. John Fisher University will continue to do all it can to assist in the investigation to find Kenneth DeLand,” the school said. “University officials have stayed in close contact with the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS) who is working with local law enforcement on the search, as well as Kenneth’s family to offer support to them during this time.”

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“Our campus community remains hopeful that Kenneth will be found safe and return home,” the statement added.

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