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Concerns Grow After New York Student Disappears While Studying Abroad In France
Loved ones say they fear the worst since not speaking with 22-year-old Ken DeLand, whom they spoke with on Nov. 27 before he boarded a train. Surveillance video showed DeLand almost a week later making an $8.40 purchase at a French sports store.
The family of a missing university student is appealing to the public for help.
Relatives say they haven’t heard from 22-year-old Ken DeLand, a senior from New York’s St. John Fisher University, since Nov. 27, according to the family’s website www.findkendeland.com. DeLand was reportedly studying abroad in France at the Université Grenoble Alpes and last spoke to his family via WhatsApp.
“We were just exchanging how he was doing; he has been traveling and having a great time in France,” DeLand’s father, Kenneth DeLand Sr., told ABC Rochester affiliate WHAM-TV.
Kenneth DeLand Sr. added in a separate interview with "Good Morning America" that he and his son were frequently in contact, saying, "He would reach out to me almost daily, sometimes every other day."
Loved ones say they “fear the worst” since there has been radio silence after the missing man allegedly left his host family’s residence and boarded a train for Valence, France, part of the country’s southeast Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, about 60 miles south of Lyon.
It was unclear from the Find Ken DeLand website which location DeLand was believed to be staying at, though Valence is about 65 miles southwest of Université Grenoble Alpes.
Relatives say DeLand’s phone last pinged on Nov. 30, despite no social media activity since Nov. 27.
The family claims “Kenny’s bank was made aware of his disappearance and provided authorization to police to track purchases,” according to the website. This access showed DeLand made a purchase on the morning of Dec. 3, worth $8.40, at a store in Montelimar, about 30 miles south of Valence.
Surveillance video confirmed this purchase occurred at the Decathlon sports store, according to the Assistance et Recherche de Personnes Disparues (France’s National Missing Persons’ Search and Assistance).
The Find Ken DeLand website published a still-shot showing DeLand seemingly entering the Decathlon store.
Family members state DeLand was due to finish his international studies on Dec. 17, and that his student visa expires on Jan. 20, according to the website.
“We understand Kenny is an adult, and the University, as well as local, national, and international police hands, are tied,” says DeLand’s family. “Neither the U.S. nor French administration can share his whereabouts.”
The family emphasized, “We need your help... If you know anyone in these areas to help look for Kenny or put pressure on the French administration and U.S. authorities!”
According to NBC News, Grenoble public prosecutors office said in a statement that they began investigating DeLand's whereabouts after other students filed a missing persons report on Nov. 29.
"The young man reportedly told several people that he had arrived in France insufficiently prepared and that he had difficulty making friends," the statement said. "He appears to have left Grenoble voluntarily."
The statement noted that Ken DeLand reportedly told others he wanted to visit Marseille before leaving France.
Kate M. Torok, Director of Marketing and Communications at St. John Fisher University, told Oxygen.com in a statement that the university is working with French investigators.
"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," the statement continued. "Our campus community remains hopeful that Kenneth will be found safe and return home.”
On Saturday, friends and community members gathered at the United Methodist Church in Clifton Springs, New York — about 30 miles southeast of Rochester — for a prayer vigil, according to NBC Rochester affiliate NHEC-TV. Reverend Brian Fellows led the service.
“That’s what we hope his family gets from this, that we don’t want their hope to die,” said Fellows. “I believe wherever he is, that all is holy and all that is sacred with him and that it brings him comfort and peace.”
Ken DeLand is about six-feet tall and weighs around 190 pounds, according to the family website. He was last seen wearing a red jacket, scarf, a gray beanie cap and blue jeans or slacks. The last image of him at the Decathlon store in Montelimar shows him with a backpack.
Relatives say that they hope the use of his passport will alert authorities, though they say: “We have learned that you can travel via other means without using your passport.”
Anyone with information is urged to contact www.findkendeland.com.