FIRST ON FOX – The family of Ken DeLand, an American college student who has been missing in France for several weeks, is gathering tips from a website about what may have happened to the 22-year-old, including people pointing to a borderless European zone, where travelers live are not required to present passports.
The missing student’s father, also known as Ken DeLand, told Fox News Digital on Tuesday that he had received tip-offs of possible sightings through their website – findkendeland.com – and has theorized from others that his son may have already left France undetected .
“In fact, everyone has been telling us about the Schengen zone,” said the elder DeLand. “And that’s a whole area within the EU where people can travel virtually without having to identify themselves, and some people have said that it can even be traveled very cheaply.”
According to the Schengen visa website, the area denotes “a zone where 26 European countries have abolished their internal borders for the free and unrestricted movement of people, in accordance with common rules for controlling external borders and fighting crime by strengthening the common Legal system and police cooperation.” It covers most European countries except Ireland.
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“Well, he could theoretically move between a few different EU countries without even having to show his passport or ID,” the elder DeLand told Fox News Digital. “I hope not.”
But the father questioned this hypothesis, noting that his son had already traveled across Europe to Italy – and later returned to France – during a break from studying abroad at the University of Grenoble Alpes.
“I know he took about a week off when school was out of class while he was over there, which is typical for college students,” the elder DeLand said. “He went to Italy because he really wanted to see what Italy was like and he enjoyed it. He traveled alone. He stayed in hostels after Florence. He has pictures of it on his Facebook.”
DeLand Sr., his wife Jennifer DeLand and the 22-year-old’s mother, Carol Laws, have launched a widespread media blitz, making multiple appearances on US cable networks to ask for information that could help get the missing student home before Christmas bring back . His study abroad program is expected to end on December 17th and his visa will expire on January 20th.
The father told Fox News Digital that even the US embassy commended her efforts to ensure coverage in French local media as well, which is seen as crucial to spreading the local news of DeLand’s disappearance.
“I was on the phone with the embassy again 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 brought this out.’ He says: ‘You and your family have done an excellent job of spreading the word. It surprises me,'” DeLand told Fox News Digital. “And I have made sure the gentleman at the embassy is aware of the website and is aware of the drop down menu on the website and all the information that we try to keep up to date on the website. So people have that available and can refer to it if they need to.”
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“I am in contact with the embassy very often and try to get up early in the morning so I can reach them at noon as they are 6 hours in advance,” adds the father. “He commended us for our ability to be in the news, create a website and inform France and all of France. And he confirmed that he did [seen] The story reached few news outlets, and he said the best you could do to break the news was get it to the French media. And you succeeded.”
The elder DeLand also criticized a statement released Monday by Grenoble prosecutor Eric Vaillant.
Vaillant claimed that DeLand “arrived in France unprepared and was having trouble making friends.” He also said French investigators claim that DeLand “appeared to have left Grenoble voluntarily.”
“Anyone who goes to a foreign-speaking country and tries to learn the language, I think if they don’t understand the language very well, they’re going to have trouble,” the elder DeLand said, defending his son. “He studied French in high school and tried to prepare as best he could to go to a foreign country. When you come to a foreign country, they speak it a lot quicker and it’s a lot more violent.”
The father said the younger DeLand, a student at St. John Fisher University in Rochester, NY, and an Eagle Scout, took French courses in middle and high school for between five and six years, but added that “even his French teacher I spoke to for help translating and she says “I’ll be honest with you my French, I’m not sure how well I could keep up with that French dialect.” She said, ‘I’m better at Quebec French.’”
“It was a variety of different students from different parts of the world. But it was only in French. So it sounded like it was kind of intense,” the father told Fox News Digital of his son’s study program on board. “And he has taken steps to enlist the help of some of the college’s advisers to ensure he can try to take courses there as successfully as possible.”
The family said they last heard from DeLand via WhatsApp on November 27.
He went to class on November 28, where those who saw him said he appeared “normal and happy,” according to the family’s website. DeLand was reported missing on November 29 after failing to show up for class or being seen by friends or his host family. He reportedly left all his belongings at his host family’s home, including his computer, tablet, train ticket and cell phone charger. His phone was last pinged at the Valence train station on November 30.
Bank records showed he made a purchase on December 3 from the Decathlon Sporting Goods store in Montelimar, France, for just $8.40. Surveillance video also showed the 6ft 190lb DeLand entering the store wearing a red jacket, scarf, gray cap, blue jeans and sneakers while carrying a black backpack.
The elder DeLand complained that the French prosecutor was privy to more information than his own family.
“That’s how the French see it because of his age. And he leaves with a bag full of stuff. I can’t comment on that, and I’m not sure where the prosecutor could have gotten his information,” the father said. “Due to data protection law, I could not receive any information.”
“Maybe I should talk to the DA,” the elder DeLand added. “He seems to have more information than us parents.”
“We saw this new development in history yesterday and we scratched our heads to know where this information came from and how he was able to determine that they had information,” the father said. “And with the Data Protection Act as such, how could he get a testimony then?”
The father also asked whether a separate trip to France would be useful for the search.
“Logistics is where I see the breakdown,” the elder DeLand told Fox News Digital. “I do not speak French. I don’t know the area. I know neither the cities nor the sights. I would have trouble getting there to understand the language and know where to even start.”
The father said he had no reason to believe his son was not on good terms with his host mother in France.
From what the elder DeLand has heard, the woman spoke some English and had two adult daughters who sometimes helped translate between their mother and the younger DeLand.
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The DeLand family just got their number and address, but they haven’t spoken yet. The father said he appreciates how the French family regularly sat down to eat together with DeLand.
“We’re not sure where Kenny is. I just hope he’s safe and can return home,” DeLand said. “We’re just trying to get the word out as widely as possible to find people who want to help and help us find Kenny and get him home safely.”