An American college student who was reported missing more than two weeks ago in France has told relatives he is safe in Spain, his family said Friday, seemingly resolving at least part of a mystery that sparked a multinational search.
Kenny DeLand Jr. called his relatives early Friday, the family said in an online statement that added the 21-year-old had “seen himself in the news.”
“We are so happy to announce that Kenny is safe,” the statement reads. “Kenny is in Spain, and Carol (his mom) is in France, preparing to see Kenny and hopefully bring him home for Christmas.”
The family has not said precisely what DeLand Jr. has told them or explained where he has been for the past two weeks.
Earlier Friday, his father, Ken DeLand Sr., was in the middle of a call with CNN when he suddenly hung up – and then later messaged CNN to report he’d just spoken with his son. French prosecutor Eric Vaillant also told CNN DeLand Jr. spoke to his family Friday from Spain.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes that he was actually calling,” Ken DeLand Sr. told CNN’s Pamela Brown on Friday night. “It was pretty emotional.”
“It seems surreal, the whole situation,” the father added. “And now its finally, last chapter.”
DeLand Sr. said his son did not disclose many details about what he has been up to for the past weeks but said he was in Spain and asked his father to stop contacting news outlets.
“I said, ‘But Ken, this is what parents do. We’re worried about you,’” DeLand Sr. added.
A senior at St. John Fisher University in Rochester, New York, DeLand had been studying at the University of Grenoble Alpes, according to his family. His parents in recent days said they had not heard from him since November 27.
His fellow students reported him missing on November 29, prompting Vaillant to launch an investigation, the Grenoble prosecutor had said.
But the young man’s parents didn’t believe that was the case, and his father as recently as Wednesday decried what he called a response from authorities that was not sufficiently urgent.
Interpol on Thursday issued a Yellow Notice for DeLand, saying he went missing on November 27. Such notices are issued to help locate missing persons, often minors, or to help identify anyone who cannot identify themselves, according to Interpol.
DeLand had been scheduled to return to the US this coming Saturday, his father said before he was found, adding that although the student liked to go hiking, he would always keep in touch.
“For him to not reach out, with no correspondence, this is very uncharacteristic of my son,” DeLand Sr. told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Wednesday. “This is what creates all the worry that any parent could ever feel.”
The US State Department is aware of reports that the student is alive and safe, but is declining to offer details, a department spokesperson told CNN Friday.
“We have seen reassuring reporting that a US citizen who was missing in Europe has been located and was able to speak with his family. Due to privacy considerations, we are unable to provide any further details,” the spokesperson said.
When Vaillant announced Monday he was investigating DeLand Jr.’s disappearance, he said the student seemed “to have left Grenoble voluntarily.”
“The young man reportedly told several people that he had arrived in France underprepared and was having difficulty making friends,” Vaillant said Monday.
The student had been seen on December 3 in a store in the town of Montélimar, roughly a 90-mile drive southwest of Grenoble, Vaillant said.
And Deland had mentioned he wanted to go to Marseille, a city along the Mediterranean some 190 miles south of Grenoble, before returning to the US, Vaillant said.
Of all the students DeLand’s host mother had welcomed, he seemed to have the most trouble fitting in, the woman told CNN this week on the condition of anonymity out of concern for her privacy.
When the host mother hadn’t heard from DeLand, she inundated him with messages trying to figure out where he was, but he did not reply, she said. Learning that he’d been seen December 3 was reassuring, she said, because she felt it confirmed her suspicions he may have left and cut off communications voluntarily.