The father of an American college student who has been missing in France for more than two weeks has issued a warning to other parents with adult children who wish to study abroad.
Ken DeLand told Fox News Digital he had no reservations as a parent when his 22-year-old son Ken “Kenny” DeLand first said he wanted to study abroad at the University of Grenoble Alpes.
“He’s an adult, so he signed up. He said, ‘I want to travel abroad.’ I’m like, ‘OK, that sounds like an idea,'” Elder DeLand told Fox News Digital of his son, who is enrolled at St. John Fisher University in Rochester, New York. “You know, kids that age are fiercely independent. They want to go out and explore the world. No problem.
“I don’t know everything about the legals and whatnot,” DeLand said in a phone interview. “I’m just a parent concerned about my child’s whereabouts, obviously.”
However, since his son went missing, the father says he has received nothing but pushback from the French university and AIFS Abroad due to a so-called privacy law. Because the young DeLand is an adult, he had to sign giving the institutions permission to share private information with other parties, including his own parents, the father explained.
KEN DELAND MISSING: AMERICAN COLLEGE STUDENT WHO DISAPPEARED IN FRANCE WHILE STUDYING ABROAD
“The only way I understand that you would be able to get around that would be if Kenny signs a waiver to waive the Privacy Act. Well, if he’s missing, he can’t sign anything. And going into that, I never would think this would be never been something that would happen in my wildest dreams,” DeLand said.
“Was it an oversight that this something should have been signed? I can say it is now, but it won’t do me any good, you know?” added the worried father. “But now you can see the level of importance of that. Now that we’ve hit a brick wall.”
In a statement to Fox News, AIFS Abroad said, “Kenneth DeLand, a St. John Fisher University student studying in an AIFS Abroad program in Grenoble, France, has been reported missing.”
“AIFS joins others concerned for his safety and we are working with local law enforcement who have launched an investigation,” the statement added. “We have been in contact with Kenneth’s family and university and hope for his safe and speedy return.”
The US State Department also acknowledged DeLand’s case in a statement to Fox News Digital.
“We are aware of reports of a missing U.S. citizen in France. When a U.S. citizen is reported missing, we work closely with local authorities as they carry out their search efforts and share information with families as we can,” said a State Department spokesman. he told Fox News Digital.
“The State Department has no higher priority than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad,” the statement added. “We stand ready to provide adequate assistance to needy U.S. citizens and their families.”
The family has been in contact with Rep. Claudia Tenney, RN.Y., who opened a Congressional inquiry into DeLand’s disappearance and got the FBI involved.
Elder DeLand said he was also in frequent contact with the US embassy and tried calling French municipalities and local police agencies, although he admitted the language barrier proved difficult.
“There were friends he was studying with at the University of Grenoble Alps. But I haven’t been given their names or phone numbers. It would be helpful if I were to speak to them. But I don’t think AIFS can divulge, or the college may disclose this because of student privacy,” Elder DeLand said. “Give me names and numbers and I’ll call anywhere.”
The family set up a website – findkendeland.com – with photos of the missing DeLand and information on the progress of the search so far. The family last heard from him via messaging app WhatsApp on Nov. 27.
Afterward, they believe DeLand left his host family’s residence and boarded a train to Valence, France.
His father told Fox News Digital he wasn’t sure why his son was headed there.
The college student’s phone last rang on November 30th. According to bank statements, DeLand made a purchase at a store Dec. 3 in Montelimar — about two hours from the university — at 9:00 am for $8.40.
Surveillance footage shows the 6-foot, 190-pound DeLand wearing a red jacket, scarf, gray beanie, blue jeans, and sneakers while carrying a black backpack to the same store.
A psychology major, his intent was to become a lawyer after graduation, his father said.
The US embassy and consulates in France have issued a memo on security and holiday closures to US citizens abroad.
The warning reads: “As the holiday season begins, the Embassy is reminded to maintain strong personal security and situational awareness. Large gatherings can present a target of opportunity for criminal elements and terrorist groups alike. Incidents of petty crime, such as pickpocketing and phone theft, are often directed at tourists and holiday buyers.Likewise, terrorists can attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist spots, transport hubs, markets and shopping centres, places places of worship and other public areas. Tourist areas should pay special attention to their surroundings.”
DeLand was an Eagle Scout and previously attended Midlakes High School in Clifton Springs, New York. He took French lessons throughout high school and tried to improve his skills by studying abroad, his father said.
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The Clifton Springs community held a weekend prayer service at the United Methodist Church, where friends and family lit candles and tied ribbons for the safe return of the missing 22-year-old.
“We love you and hope you are safe. And we hope you can come back soon,” Elder DeLand told Fox News Digital, addressing his son. “It’s always a tradition to get together with family for Christmas.”
DeLand’s study abroad program was scheduled to end on December 17. His visa expires on January 20.
Fox News’ Ashley Papa and Maria Paronich contributed to this report.