FIRST ON FOX – The family of Ken DeLand, an American college student who went missing in France in recent weeks, are collecting hints from a website about what might have happened to the 22-year-old, including from people who point to a borderless European zone where travelers are not required to present the passports.
The father of the missing student, also named Ken DeLand, told Fox News Digital on Tuesday that he has received hints through their website – findkendeland.com – of potential sightings and from others theorizing his son may have already left France. without being discovered.
“In fact, everyone told us about the Schengen Zone,” Elder DeLand said. “And what it is, it’s a whole area that encompasses within the EU that people can travel to virtually without having to show ID. And some people have said that it can also be traveled very cheaply.” .
According to the Schengen visa website, the area “means an area in which 26 European countries have abolished their internal borders for the free and unrestricted movement of persons, in accordance with common rules for external border control and the fight to crime by strengthening the common judicial system and police cooperation.” Covers most European countries except Ireland.
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“Well, theoretically he could move between different EU countries without even having to show his passport or ID card,” the elder DeLand told Fox News Digital. “I hope not.”
But the father questioned this hypothesis, noting how his son, during a break from his study abroad program at the University of Grenoble Alpes, has already traveled throughout Europe, to Italy – and later returned to France .
“I know he took a vacation when school was out of session for about a week while he was there, which is typical for college students,” Elder DeLand said. “He traveled to Italy because he really wanted to see what Italy was like, and he liked it. He traveled alone. He stayed in hostels. He went to different coastal cities, Rome, Naples, I think he went to Florence. has pictures on Facebook.”
DeLand Sr., his wife Jennifer DeLand and the 22-year-old’s mother, Carol Laws, launched an all-out media blitz, making several appearances across U.S. cable networks asking for information that could help bring the missing student home before Christmas . His study abroad program will end on December 17 and his visa will expire on January 20.
The father told Fox News Digital that the US embassy also praised their efforts to also ensure coverage by local French media, something seen as crucial to spreading the local word about DeLand’s disappearance.
“I was on the phone again with the embassy this morning and the gentleman at the embassy said, ‘I can’t believe how much coverage you’ve already gotten with this story.’ He said, ‘It surprises me and it’s good for you that you posted this.’ He says, ‘You and your family have done a great job of spreading the word. It surprises me,'” DeLand told Fox News Digital. “And I made sure the gentleman at the embassy knows the website and knows the drop down menu on the website and all the information that we are trying to keep up to date on the website. So, people have it available and they can refer to that when necessary.”
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“I have been in contact with the embassy very often and I try to get up early in the morning so that I can reach them by noon as it is 6 hours ahead,” added the father. “He complimented us on our ability to get into the news, create a website and make France and all of France known. And he confirmed that he has [seen] the story hit a few news outlets and he said the best thing you can do to get the word out is get it to the French media. And you succeeded.”
The elder DeLand also criticized a statement released Monday by Grenoble prosecutor Eric Vaillant.
Vaillant stated that DeLand had “arrived in France unprepared and was having difficulty making friends”. He also said French investigators say DeLand “appears to have left Grenoble voluntarily.”
“I feel that anyone who goes to a foreign-speaking country and tries to learn the language is going to have a hard time unless they have a very good understanding of the language,” Elder DeLand said, defending his son. “He studied French in high school and tried to prepare as much as he could think about going to a foreign country. When you get to a foreign country, you know, they speak it a lot faster, and it’s a lot more intense.”
The father said young DeLand, a student at St. John Fisher University in Rochester, NY, and an Eagle Scout, took between five and six years of French classes in middle and high school, but added that “Even her French teacher I was talking to to get help translating, and she says, ‘I’ll be honest with you, my French, I’m not sure how well I’d be able to keep up with that French dialect.’ She said : ‘I’m better at French than Quebec.'”
“It was a variety of different students from different areas of the world. But it was only in French. So, having said that, it seemed like it was pretty intense,” the father told Fox News Digital of his son’s board study program. “And he reached out to get help from some of the counselors at the college to make sure that, you know, he could try to be as successful as possible taking the courses over there.”
The family said they last heard from DeLand on Nov. 27 via WhatsApp.
He went to class on Nov. 28, where those who saw him said he looked “normal and happy,” according to the family’s website. DeLand was reported missing on Nov. 29 after failing to show up for class or being seen by friends or his host family. He reportedly left all of his possessions at his host family’s home, including his computer, tablet, train pass and phone charger. His phone last rang at the Valence train station on November 30th.
Bank records showed he made a purchase on Decathlon 3 at the Decathlon sporting goods store in Montelimar, France for just $8.40. Surveillance video also showed the 6-foot, 190-pound DeLand entering the store wearing a red jacket, scarf, gray cap, blue jeans and sneakers while carrying a black backpack.
Elder DeLand complained that the French prosecutor is privy to more information than his own family.
“That’s how the French see it because of his age. And he walks off with a lot of stuff. I can’t comment on that, and I’m not sure where the prosecutor managed to get his information.” , the father said. “I have not been able to obtain information due to the privacy law.”
“Perhaps I should talk to the prosecutor,” Elder DeLand added. “He seems to have more information than we do as parents.”
“Yesterday we saw that new development in the story, and we were scratching our heads as to where that information came from and how he was able to ascertain that they had information,” the father said. “And with the privacy law as such, then how could he get a testimony?”
The father also asked if a trip to France would be useful for research.
“Logistically, here’s the breakdown I see,” Elder DeLand told Fox News Digital. “I don’t speak French. I don’t know the area. I don’t know the cities or landmarks. I would struggle if I got there to learn the language and know where to go to begin with.”
The father said he had no reason to believe his son did not have a good relationship with his host mother in France.
From what Elder DeLand heard, the woman spoke some English and had two adult daughters who sometimes helped translate between the mother and young DeLand.
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The DeLand family just got her number and address, but they haven’t spoken yet. The father said he appreciated how the French family regularly sat down with DeLand for meals together.
“We’re not sure where Kenny is. I just hope he’s safe and I hope he can go home,” DeLand said. “We’re just trying to get the word out as far as possible to find people who want to help and want to help us find Kenny and get him home safely.”