Haiti Earthquake: Missing Lynn University Students, Professors

Lynn University hired a private search team to find its students and staff.

ByABC News
January 14, 2010, 12:11 PM

Jan. 14, 2010 — -- Three students from a Florida university who were believed to have been located and safe in Haiti following Tuesday's earthquake have not actually been heard from and are still missing, university officials announced today.

At a late night press conference Thursday, Lynn University officials said that "bad intelligence" led the school to erroneously announce that three students traveling with a larger group of 14 had been accounted for after the devastating earthquake Tuesday evening.

"At approximately 9:40 p.m. this evening, after a full day spent pressing this group for more details, we were told that Stephanie Crispinelli, Courtney Hayes and Britney Gengel were not, in fact, ever located. They remain lost," said Lynn University President Kevin Ross.

Ross said that the rescue team in Haiti looking for the student group -- a total of 14 students and faculty members traveled from the Boca Raton, Fla., school with an aid group and arrived in the country on Monday -- had told school officials that four students were flown from the Hotel Montana on a "fixed wing aircraft" to safety.

Tonight, Ross said that information was wrong, and brings the tally of students still missing in the country to four, and the total number of faculty members to four.

"This is hard news to deliver. But it is more difficult to hear for those family and friends with whom, only hours earlier, such good news had been shared. I am deeply sorry for that," said Ross.

A private contractor hired by the school also continues to search for 22-year-old Christine Gianacaci and faculty advisors Dr. Patrick Hartwick and Dr. Richard Bruno. Two other faculty members from the university, whose names have not yet been released, were vacationing in Haiti at the time of the earthquake and are also unaccounted for.

"The game plan today is to try and find these people," university spokesman Jason Hughes said earlier. "The mood here is somber, but hopeful."

For full Haiti Earthquake coverage Watch World News With Diane Sawyer this evening. Check your local listing for times.

So far, the contractor has located 11 members of the aid group Food for Poor that had landed in Haiti just a day before the earthquake hit. The students were supposed to have returned to the U.S. on Jan. 15.

Paul Tyska, one of the students located by the rescue team, made a call on a satellite phone to Lynn University's crisis management team just after 1:30 p.m. today, reporting that he and seven other students were "safe" and being transported to the Dominican Republic by the U.S. Department of State along with other Americans, said Hughes.

At approximately 6 p.m. Thursday, the university announced that the eight students had landed safely in the Dominican Republic.

Lynn University sent three staff members to meet these students and accompany them to South Florida on a 16-seat private jet that was given to the school by an anonymous donor, said Hughes.

The time and day that the students might arrive back in the U.S. was not immediately clear, he said.

Three other students who were found are still in Haiti. Their location and condition weren't immediately known to school officials.

Hughes did not name the contractor on the ground in Haiti helping to evacuate the students and look for the five missing group members, but said that the contractor's staff were provided to them by the insurance that the university routinely takes out for groups traveling abroad.

The severity of the situation in Haiti, said Hughes, prompted the use of a private search team.

"It is not routine in any way to use this sort of service," said Hughes. "Only in extraordinary circumstances would you have this ability."

Hughes said that the contractors arrived Wednesday morning on two helicopters, but did not know how many people were involved in the rescue effort.

Hartwick is the dean of the schools' college of education and Bruno is an assistant professor in the College of Liberal Education.

A MySpace page appearing to belong to Gianacaci was last visited on Jan.3, and lists elementary education as her major. A quote on the pages says, "These are the best days of our lives."

The group of 14 had been staying at the Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake hit shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday. The hotel has been badly damaged by the quake.