The father of an American college student who has been missing in France for more than two weeks delivered a warning to other parents with adult children looking to study abroad.
Ken DeLand told Fox News Digital that he had no reservations as a parent when his 21-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,'” the elder DeLand told Fox News Digital of his son, who is enrolled at St. John Fisher University in Rochester, New York. “You know, kids of that age are fiercely independent. They want to get out and explore the world. No problem.
“I don’t know all about the legalities and whatnot,” DeLand said in a phone interview. “I’m just a parent that’s concerned about the whereabouts of my kid, obviously.”
However, since his son went missing, the dad says he has received nothing but pushback from the French university and AIFS Abroad due to a so-called Privacy Act. Because the younger DeLand is an adult, he had to sign off giving institutions permission to share private information with other parties, including his own parents, the father explained.
KEN DELAND MISSING: AMERICAN COLLEGE STUDENT DISAPPEARS IN FRANCE WHILE STUDYING ABROAD
“The only way that I understand that you would be able to circumvent that would be if Kenny was to sign a waiver to waive the Privacy Act. Well, if he’s missing, he can’t sign something. And going into this, I never would think that this would ever be something that would happen in my wildest dreams,” DeLand said.
“Was that an oversight that this something should have been signed? I can say it is now, but it’s not going to do me any good, you know?” the concerned father added. “But you can see the level of importance of it now. Now that we’ve hit a brick wall.”
In a statement to Fox News, AIFS Abroad said, “Kenneth DeLand, a student from St. John Fisher University studying on 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 begun a search,”the statement added. “We have been in contact with Kenneth’s family and university and we are hoping for his swift and safe return.”
The U.S. State Department also acknowledged DeLand’s case in a statement to Fox News Digital.
“We are aware of reports of a U.S. citizen missing in France. When a U.S. 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,” a State Department spokesperson told Fox News Digital.
“The Department of State has no higher priority than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad,” the statement added. “We stand ready to provide appropriate assistance to U.S. citizens in need and to their families.”
The family has been in contact with Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., who opened a congressional inquiry into DeLand’s disappearance and involved the FBI.
The elder DeLand said he has also been in frequent contact with the U.S. Embassy and has tried calling local French municipalities and police agencies, though he admitted the language barrier has proven difficult.
“There was friends that he was studying with at the University Grenoble Alps. But I haven’t been given their names or their phone numbers. That would be helpful if I were to talk to them. But I don’t think that AIFS can disclose, or the college can disclose that due to privacy of the students,” the elder DeLand said. “Provide me with names and numbers and I will call everywhere.”
The family created a website – findkendeland.com – with photos of the missing DeLand and information about the progress of search efforts so far. The family last heard from him over the WhatsApp messaging app on Nov. 27.
Afterward, they believe DeLand left his host family’s residence and boarded a train for Valence, France.
His father told Fox News Digital he was unsure why his son was headed there.
The college student’s phone last pinged on Nov. 30. According to bank statements, DeLand made a purchase at a store on Dec. 3 in Montelimar – about two hours away from the university — at 9 a.m. 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 into the same store.
A senior majoring in psychology, his intent was to pursue becoming a lawyer after graduation, his father said.
The U.S. Embassy and Consulates in France issued a holiday security and closures reminder to U.S. citizens abroad.
The warning reads, “With the holiday season beginning, the Embassy reminds you to maintain sound personal security and situational awareness. Large gatherings may present a target of opportunity for criminal elements and terrorist groups alike. Incidents of petty crime, such as pick-pocketing and phone snatching, are often directed at tourists and holiday shoppers. Likewise, terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets and shopping malls, places of worship, and other public areas. Visitors to congested and popular tourist areas should pay particular attention to their surroundings.”
DeLand was an Eagle Scout and previously attended Midlakes High School in Clifton Springs, New York. He took French classes all through high school and sought to improve his skills by studying abroad, his father said.
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The community in Clifton Springs held at prayer service over the weekend at United Methodist Church, where friends and family lit candles and tied ribbons for the missing 21-year-old’s safe return.
“We love you, and we hope you’re safe. And we hope you can return soon,” the elder DeLand told Fox News Digital, addressing his son. “It’s always tradition to get together with family for Christmas.”
DeLand’s study abroad program was set to end on Dec. 17. His visa expires on Jan. 20.
Fox News’ Ashley Papa and Maria Paronich contributed to this report.