Missing American study abroad student may have left willingly, says French prosecutor

Ken Deland Jr.'s family said they last heard from their son on Nov. 27.

December 12, 2022, 7:54 PM

The American student who went missing in France last month had trouble making friends and may have voluntarily left the area he was living in, a French prosecutor said Monday.

Grenoble prosecutor Eric Vaillant said that Ken DeLand Jr. was having a hard time while living in France and expressed a desire to leave early.

DeLand Jr. reportedly told several people that he arrived in France "insufficiently prepared" and had a hard time making friends, Vaillant said. "He was not feeling well. He himself had mentioned that he wanted to leave earlier by going to Marseille."

He was scheduled to leave France on Dec. 15, according to Vaillant.

DeLand Jr.'s family launched a website to get information about their missing son out to the public.

His family said they last heard from their son on Nov. 27 on the popular WhatsApp messaging app after he left the home of his host and was headed on a train to Valence, France. According to his dad, the last time his son's phone pinged was on Nov. 30.

DeLand Jr. was in "constant communication" with his family while abroad, said his father Kenneth DeLand, who spoke to "Good Morning America."

"He would reach out to me almost daily, sometimes every other day," DeLand Sr. said.

The 22-year-old was last seen wearing a red jacket, scarf, grey beanie, blue pants, black backpack and sneakers, his family said on the website, alongside a picture from a surveillance camera of him walking inside a sporting goods store on Dec. 3.

PHOTO: A photo of Ken DeLand provided by his family.
A photo of Ken DeLand provided by his family.
DeLand Family

According to French authorities, DeLand Jr. has officially been reported missing and an investigation has been launched.

In a statement to ABC News, the FBI said it's "aware of the matter of a missing U.S. student studying abroad in France" and is assisting its international partners on the case through its office in Paris.

DeLand Jr. was learning French abroad at the University of Grenoble Alpes through the study abroad program, American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS). In the U.S., he was a senior at St. John Fisher University in Rochester, New York, his parents said.

"AIFS joins others concerned for his safety and we are working with local law enforcement who have begun a search. We have been in contact with Kenneth's family and university and we are hoping for his swift and safe return," AIFS told ABC News.

According to DeLand Sr., a liaison from the program had reached out to the family saying he didn't attend class, which was unusual.

The French prosecutor's office said that DeLand Jr.'s classmates reported that he disappeared.

"Kenny's a friendly, outgoing college student, a young man," the elder DeLand said. "He loves to travel. So, this trip has been something that he's really looked forward to and enjoyed."