French prosecutor investigating disappearance of New York college student studying in France
By Andy Rose, Saskya Vandoorne and Allegra Goodwin, CNN
A prosecutor in France has opened an investigation into the disappearance of an American college student who, his family says, has not been heard from in more than two weeks.
Kenny DeLand Jr.’s fellow students reported him missing on November 29, prompting the investigation, according to a statement from the prosecutor released Monday and obtained by CNN.
Deland is a senior at St. John Fisher University in Rochester, New York, who has been studying at the University of Grenoble Alpes, according to his family.
“The young man reportedly told several people that he had arrived in France underprepared and was having difficulty making friends,” Grenoble prosecutor Eric Vaillant said in the statement.
The school is about 75 miles southeast of Lyon in eastern France.
DeLand’s parents say they have not heard from him since November 27. “We just shake our heads,” his father, Ken DeLand, Sr., told CNN affiliate WHAM. “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 “seems to have left Grenoble voluntarily,” Vaillant said, adding the student had been seen in a Decathlon store in the town of Montélimar, about 87 miles from Grenoble, on December 3.
“He also mentioned that he wanted to go to Marseille before leaving for the United States,” Vaillant said.
DeLand was expected to leave France on December 15, according to the prosecutor’s statement.
The family says a missing person’s report has been filed, and bank records show DeLand last made a purchase at a store on December 3. There has been no record of his whereabouts since then, his family says.
The last time they spoke, “it was like any normal conversation that we’ve had,” his mother, Carol Laws, told CNN’s Victor Blackwell Monday afternoon. “He was looking forward to coming home for Chirstmas and starting to put the plans in place for that.”
His father, DeLand, Sr., said he was not aware that his son was not able to make friends easily. He had been traveling with friends from the study abroad program, he said.
His parents told CNN it has been difficult to get information from authorities both in the US and abroad.
“I feel like I’m really not receiving any information, it’s been very difficult,” Laws said. “You know, really someone else has been stuck in the middle to do the speaking for us.”
Not only is the language barrier difficult but DeLand’s father cited a French privacy act that has prevented the release of certain information.
He has been reaching out to the authorities at the embassy and authorities in France but says he hasn’t had much luck.
“There’s no reciprocation of information. That privacy act prevents disclosure of information, you can give them information but they cannot give you information,” DeLand, Sr. told CNN. “I’ve called the local police departments and the same thing is in effect in the French police departments that are local to that area in which he was last seen. So, it’s very limiting.”
The US State Department is “aware of reports of a US citizen missing in France,” a department spokesperson told CNN on Monday. They did not provide further details.
“When a US 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,” they said.
To help find him, Deland’s family has launched a website where people can send tips and information.
Tips have come in, DeLand, Sr. told CNN Monday, and he’s passed them on to the FBI and to the embassy, but he hasn’t heard if any of them have checked out.
“I’m hoping that Interpol has gotten involved, and we’ve been interviewed by several news media stations and we’re hoping we can, with your help and the help of others, we can get the word out there.”
New York State Senator Pam Helming said Deland Jr. is a former intern of hers, and his disappearance is “worrisome.” During his stint as intern from 2019 to 2020, he “brought a positive energy with him every day. I pray that he is found safe and returns home soon to be with his family,” Helming said in a statement.
St. John Fisher University “will continue to do all it can to assist in the investigation to find Kenneth DeLand,” the school said in a statement.
“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. Our campus community remains hopeful that Kenneth will be found safe and return home.”
AIFS said Monday that it’s working with local officials and is in touch with the DeLand family.
“We are hoping for his swift and safe return,” the institute said in a statement.
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CNN’s Rob Frehse, Theresa Waldrop, Carolyn Sung and Artemis Moshtaghian contributed to this report.