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22-year-old American student studying abroad is missing in France

Ken DeLand was last seen on surveillance footage in a sports store in Montelimar, France, on Dec. 3.
/ Source: TODAY

An American student studying abroad in France has been missing for weeks, his family said, as concerns grow about his whereabouts ahead of the holiday season.

Ken DeLand, 22, last contacted his family while studying at the University Grenoble Alpes on Nov. 27, according to a website his family set up to post updates on his disappearance. DeLand then apparently left his host family's residence and boarded a train to Valence, a two-hour train ride from Grenoble, his family said.

His phone last pinged on Nov. 30, according to his family.

"We fear the worst and want him to be located," his family said on the website.

DeLand was last seen on surveillance footage at a sports store on Dec. 3 around 9 a.m. in Montelimar, France, wearing a red jacket, scarf, grey beanie, blue jeans and a black backpack. His family said he made a purchase at the store for $8.40, according to bank statements.

Eric Vaillant, the public prosecutor of Grenoble, said in a statement to NBC News his office opened an investigation into DeLand's "disturbing disappearance" on Nov. 29 following reports from students.

"The young man reportedly told several people that he had arrived in France insufficiently prepared and that he had difficulty making friends," Vaillant said, adding that DeLand appeared to "have left Grenoble voluntarily."

Vaillant said DeLand had mentioned he wanted to go to Marseille, a city in the south of France, before returning to the U.S. Deland was scheduled to leave France on Dec. 15, Vaillant said.

DeLand's family said his study abroad program was supposed to end on Dec. 15, and that his visa expires in January 2023. They added their son is on the missing persons list in France, which means authorities would be notified if he attempts to leave the country with his passport on a train.

DeLand is a senior at St. John Fisher University in Rochester, New York, NBC affiliate WHEC reported. A university spokesperson told NBC News that the school will continue to assist in the investigations to find DeLand, and that university officials were in "close contact" with the study abroad agency, American Institute for Foreign Study, which is working with French law enforcement on the search.

His father, Ken DeLand Sr., told WHEC his son would call a member of his family almost every day, but the calls abruptly stopped two weeks ago.

His family held a prayer vigil for their son on Dec. 11, and told WHEC they still have hope.

"We don’t want their hope to die," Rev. Brian Fellows of Clifton Springs United Methodist Church said. "I believe wherever he is that all is holy and all that is sacred is with him and that it brings him comfort and peace."