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Host mother of missing US student studying in France suspects he left voluntarily. His parents disagree


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By Melissa Bell, Saskya Vandoorne and Christina Maxouris, CNN

The woman who hosted an American college student studying in France before he went missing told CNN she thinks he may have left voluntarily — a claim echoed by a French prosecutor.

But the young man’s parents don’t believe that’s the case and on Wednesday, the student’s father said he felt there was not an urgent enough response from authorities.

Kenny DeLand Jr., a senior at St. John Fisher University in Rochester, New York, had been studying at the University of Grenoble Alpes, according to his family. His parents say they have not heard from him since November 27. His fellow students reported him missing on November 29, and an investigation was launched, according to Grenoble prosecutor Eric Vaillant.

Vaillant has said the student “seems to have left Grenoble voluntarily,” adding DeLand was seen in a Decathlon store in the town of Mont√©limar, about 87 miles from Grenoble, on December 3. Bank records show DeLand last made a purchase at a store on that day, but there have been no records of his whereabouts since then, his family says.

The student’s father, Kenneth DeLand Sr., spoke with CNN Thursday morning saying he was told by authorities that Interpol is now involved.

Interpol has issued a Yellow Notice for DeLand Jr., saying he went missing on November 27.

Yellow Notices are issued to help locate missing persons, often minors, or to help identify persons who are unable to identify themselves, according to Interpol’s website.

CNN asked the Grenoble prosecutor if Interpol’s involvement meant DeLand Jr. had crossed a border but received a “no comment.”

DeLand Jr.’s host mother, who spoke exclusively to CNN on the condition of anonymity out of concerns for her privacy, said that out of all the students she had hosted, DeLand seemed to have the most trouble fitting in.

She told CNN that when she hadn’t heard from DeLand, she inundated him with messages trying to figure out where he was but he did not reply. Finding out about the December 3 footage was reassuring, she said, because she felt it confirmed her suspicions he may have left and cut off communications voluntarily.

DeLand had mentioned he wanted to go to Marseille before returning to the US, according to the prosecuitor.

DeLand Sr. said his son was scheduled to return to the US on December 17. And though the student liked to go hiking, he would always keep in touch, his father said.

“For him to not reach out, with no correspondence, this is very uncharacteristic of my son,” DeLand Sr. told CNN’s Anderson Cooper Wednesday. “This is what creates all the worry that any parent could ever feel.”

“As time goes by, it makes you worry even more.”

Lack of urgency from authorities, father says

DeLand Sr. has challenged the idea that his son left voluntarily.

He has said DeLand Jr. was traveling with friends from a study abroad program and he never gave any indication during their frequent conversations that he was having trouble making friends. The student’s mother, Carol Laws, has said that when she last spoke to her son, he was “looking forward to coming home for Christmas.”

On Wednesday night, DeLand Sr. said he felt there wasn’t enough urgency in the way authorities were responding to his son’s case, saying “it just feels like the wind has gone out of the sail as far as what’s being done to find my son.”

“What’s being done?” the father said. “(Are) there still resources? … Are they looking for him? What’s going on?”

This wasn’t the first time the father expressed similar concerns about the response: DeLand Jr.’s parents previously told CNN it has been difficult trying to get information from authorities both in the US and abroad. Not only is the language barrier difficult but DeLand’s father earlier this week cited a French privacy act that has prevented the release of certain information.

DeLand Sr. said Tuesday he had been reaching out to the authorities at the embassy and authorities in France but didn’t have much luck.

“There’s no reciprocation of information. That privacy act prevents disclosure of information, you can give them information but they cannot give you information,” the father told CNN earlier this week.

“I’ve called the local police departments and the same thing is in effect in the French police departments that are local to that area in which he was last seen,” he added. “So, it’s very limiting.”

To help find him, Deland’s family has launched a website where people can send tips and information.

And in a statement, St. John Fisher University said it is doing all it can to assist in the investigation to find the young man.

“University officials have stayed in close contact with the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS) who is working with local law enforcement on the search, as well as Kenneth’s family to offer support to them during this time. Our campus community remains hopeful that Kenneth will be found safe and return home,” the school said.

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