Parents Devastated After Daughter Declared Still Missing in Haiti

Len Gengel thought his daughter was safe, then learned she's still missing.

January 15, 2010, 3:12 PM

Jan. 15, 2010 — -- Screaming "she's alive!" at a laptop image he was certain was a photo of his 19-year-old daughter, Britney, who had been in Haiti during the earthquake, Len Gengel was thrilled Thursday morning.

But the father's euphoria turned to heartbreak when just hours later he learned he had been mistaken and that his daughter was actually still missing in the quake-ravaged country.

Britney Gengel remains one of four Lynn University students and four faculty members missing in Port-au-Prince.

Speaking to reporters in Florida today, an emotional Gengel said he appreciated the thoughts and prayers of everyone around the country.

"We are praying that our daughter Britney be one of the rescued today and be brought home safe and sound," he said. "And I'm pleading to President Obama, to please, please send more people to Haiti to rescue our children."

"As a father, President Obama, you must feel our pain in what we're going through," he said. "Father to father, we need you."

"I don't believe that Stephen King could have written a scenario as painful as what they have gone through," said Massachusetts' State Sen. Stephen M. Brewer, who is acting as the family's spokesman.

"They've gone from very, very anxious waiting for Britney to sheer elation when she was reported to be found at 9:30 on Thursday morning to absolute despair at 9:30 on Thursday evening," Brewer told

Britney Gengel was one of 14 students and faculty members traveling from Florida's Lynn University on a relief mission with Food for the Poor. The group arrived Monday night, just a day before a 7.0 earthquake rocked the country and the Hotel Montana, where the group was staying was destroyed.

Lynn contracted a rescue group through the university's insurance provider to enter the country and search for the missing group. On Thursday morning, the university released what it thought was great news: 11 of the 14 group members had been found, including Britney.

Gengel was in tears when he found out and immediately flew from the family's Rutland, Mass., home to Boca Raton, Fla., with his wife, Cherylann, and their two teenage sons, eager to meet Britney as soon as she returned to the United States.

"She's on a helicopter being airlifted to Port-au-Prince," Gengel told reporters before departing. "We are so thrilled. We have been here praying for 48 hours."

Then, becoming even more excited, Gengel asked the throng of cameraman if they wanted to see his daughter.

"I'll show you," he said, pulling up the photo on his laptop. "You guys want to see it? Come here, there she is, she's right there."

Lynn University Students Still Missing

Just hours after landing, the Gengel family got the devastating news that the rescue teams had been wrong, and that the dark haired, light skinned girl in the photograph wasn't their daughter after all.

"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," University President Kevin Ross said at a late-night press conference Thursday.

A total of four students and four faculty members, two of whom were the group advisers on the trip, are still missing, according to Ross.

"We are so happy for the parents of the eight students who made their way out of the Hotel Montana in Haiti, and we are so thankful for their safety," Gengel told reporters today.

Attributing the mistake to "bad intelligence," Ross told reporters that he had reviewed the photo the Gengel family had originally believed to have been Britney again, and that they had all agreed that maybe they had just "wanted the photo to be of Britney."

"They are very somber," Ross said of the family. "They are devastated by this news."

Brewer said that the family has stopped returning calls for now and is trying to "regroup internally."

"This has been extraordinarily difficult for them," said Brewer. "But we are all holding out hope."

"Britney is a very bright, psychically fit, resourceful leader," he said. "We're very prayerful, and we have faith."