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Missing American studying in Europe found alive in Spain

By Sarah May
|
December 17, 2022

In a shocking twist to an alarming story out of Europe, an American college student who had reportedly gone missing while studying abroad in France has been located alive in Spain, as NBC News reports.

Ken DeLand Jr., 21, was successfully located, his family announced Friday, and according to the Grenoble, France public prosecutor, had spoken with his parents, Ken DeLand Sr. and Carol Lewis.

Disappearance sparks fears

As NBC News reported separately, back in November, DeLand Jr.'s parents alerted authorities and said that they feared their son, who had been spending the semester as a student at the University of Grenoble Alpes, was, in fact, missing.

The pair noted on a website established to assist in the search that the last contact with their son came via the WhatsApp messaging platform on Nov. 27, just as DeLand, Jr. was getting on a train to the town of Valence, in the southeastern part of France, which would have been a two-hour trip from Grenoble.

Adding to the urgency of their search was the fact that DeLand Jr.'s university program was slated to conclude imminently, and his visa was only valid until early 2023, as NBC News further noted.

"Constant communication" ceases

The public prosecutor's office in Grenoble issued a statement in late November once an investigation into DeLand Jr.'s suspected disappearance had been launched, declaring that “[t]he young man reportedly told several people that he had arrived in France insufficiently prepared and that he had difficulty making friends,” raising concerns about the student's possible mental state.

DeLand, Sr. said during an appearance on ABC's Good Morning America that while abroad, his son remained in “constant communication,” reaching out “almost daily, sometimes every other day.”

Despite any potential obstacles acclimating to life in France, DeLand, Sr. added that “Kenny's a friendly, outgoing college student, a young man. He loves to travel. So this trip has been something he's really looked forward to and enjoyed.”

Search intensifies

As concerns about the situation continued to grow, DeLand Jr.'s American school, St. John Fisher University, vowed to help with any investigations launched as part of the search for the missing student, adding that the institution remained in “close contact” with the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS).

AIFS indicated that it was working in collaboration with French authorities as well as the DeLand family to help facilitate a “swift and safe return.”

A glimmer of hope in the form of a small clue came when security cameras near a sporting goods store in the southeastern French town of Montelimar captured the student entering the premises, where he reportedly engaged in a retail transaction.

Breakthrough welcomed

To the tremendous relief of his friends and family, officials confirmed Friday that DeLand, Jr. was alive and in Spain, almost three weeks after initial reports of his disappearance, according to Fox News.

Reports suggest that DeLand, Jr. made contact with his parents after coming across media reports discussing their frantic attempts to learn his whereabouts.

“KENNY HAS BEEN FOUND,” read a message on the website created by the family to aid in the search, adding, “We will update you with more information as we get it! THANK YOU to everyone for helping us bring Kenny home.”

The DeLand family also acknowledged the fortuitous turn of events that ended their ordeal, saying, “Without the media's help, Kenny would not have seen himself in the news.”

Providing scant additional detail, the DeLands stated merely, “Kenny is in Spain, and Carol (his mom) is in France, preparing to see Kenny and hopefully bring him home for Christmas.”

Sigh of relief

As word of DeLand's confirmed safety emerged, a spokesperson for the American embassy in Paris declined to offer further specifics on the situation due to “privacy considerations.”

A representative of St. John Fisher University issued a statement saying, “We are relieved by this news, and will continue to support Kenneth and his family in any way we can,” though it remains unclear what sort of assistance the DeLands may require going forward.