When the news emerged that 21-year-old American student Ken “Kenny” DeLand had vanished without a trace in France, the hearts of parents everywhere churned on behalf of the family so desperately trying to find him.

It was the run-up to Christmas and Kenny’s loved ones anticipated seeing him soon. His study abroad program at the University Grenoble Alpes was set to end on December 15 with his visa expiring only the following month. 

However, in an instant, the DeLand family was plunged into a nightmare when Kenny became an American missing abroad. Happily, this is a story with a positive ending and also with a number of valuable examples of how others faced with such a crisis can take control of the situation. Read on as we dive into Kenny’s story and highlight key pointers for anyone trying to find a missing person abroad.

The Disappearance of Kenny DeLand

On November 29 of 2022, Kenny had breakfast and packed a bag with a change of clothes, his phone and wallet, and left his French host family’s home without saying a word. Only two days prior, he’d sent his last WhatsApp message to his family and shared his last social media post. He’d left behind all of his other belongings, including his other devices and phone charger.

With the alarm raised, efforts began to trace the whereabouts of Kenny, initially to little avail. His phone had last pinged on November 30th before going dark. It was learned that he’d boarded a train to Valence, despite not having his train pass. 

A trace on Kenny’s bank account and CCTV footage allowed him to be traced to a Decathlon store in Montelimar on December 3, where the 6ft tall student was recorded making a purchase for $8.40 while wearing a red jacket, grey beanie, blue jeans, scarf, and black backpack. However, those on Kenny’s trail were still in the wind.

Frustration for the Loved Ones of Kenny DeLand

The DeLand family quickly jumped into action, setting up a website for Kenny and working with the State Department, the FBI, and the French authorities to try to track down their son. Heart wrenchingly, they shared online, “We fear the worst and want him to be located.”

However, as not only the language barrier but also French privacy legislation blocked the flow of critical information from authorities, DeLand Senior publicly shared his frustrations. “There’s no reciprocation of information. That privacy act prevents disclosure of information, you can give them information but they cannot give you information,” he shared with CNN.

But their efforts were not in vain, because the extensive media coverage of Kenny’s disappearance had hit the headlines in Spain. As the family learned on December 16—only five days after holding a prayer vigil for the young traveler’s safe return—Kenny had in fact crossed the border despite a flag on his passport. After seeing himself on the news, Kenny contacted his parents, who shared online, “Without everyone’s help, we wouldn’t have our Son, hopefully, home Christmas.”

Taking Control When a Loved One Goes Missing Abroad

As Kenny’s story makes clear, while embassies, the State Department, and law enforcement on the ground can provide some support there is power in taking independent steps to find a missing person overseas. This can span from creating social media campaigns and contacting media outlets to seeking expert support from an international missing persons investigator who can immediately get out into the field and search for your loved one.
Here at Lauth Missing Persons, we provide a spectrum of investigative support options for those who are trying to a missing US citizen abroad. Head over to our free missing persons resources page to discover more about how you can take control of this difficult situation or contact our team today to discuss how we can assist.