A pastor who worked extensively with Ken “Kenny” DeLand — an American college student missing in France for more than two weeks — said it was a “privilege and an honor” to know the now 22-year-old as an Eagle Scout.
Rev. Brian Fellows, a pastor at Clifton Springs United Methodist Church for the past five years, told Fox News Digital that he remains optimistic that DeLand will soon contact his parents to let them know he’s safe “sometime when this adventure is over.” He’s known DeLand since he first became an Eagle Scout four years ago.
“I knew him to be a fun-loving and loving adventure. I saw him doing the typical things that scouts do, you know, pulling pranks and just being boys, having fun and having an adventure and learning,” Fellows said.
Asked what went through his mind upon learning of DeLand’s disappearance, Fellows said, “It hurt. This was somebody that, you know, had a relationship with the faith community, a relationship with the community at large. And to have him missing. It feels like a piece of us is missing.”
The pastor said he’s seen DeLand less since he enrolled at St. John Fisher University in Rochester, New York, but has kept in touch with some of his scouting buddies. Remembering DeLand fondly, though, Fellows is offering any spiritual support to his family, even if they just need someone to talk to in order to process things.
DeLand, despite traveling to Italy on college break earlier in the semester and later returning to France, was reported missing on Nov. 29 when he failed to attend classes at the University of Grenoble Alpes or contact his French host family. He last spoke to his family in New York on Nov. 27 via WhatsApp.
His phone last pinged at a train station in Valence, France, on Nov. 30. And bank statements and surveillance video last placed him at a sporting goods store in Montelimar, France, on Dec. 3.
Amid comments from a French prosecutor that DeLand had trouble making friends while abroad, Fellows contended he knew DeLand to normally be very sociable and shared his own theory.
“Fun-loving, adventurous,” the pastor said of DeLand. “What I’ve heard from people and what we’ve thought is of Kenny. ‘Oh, I lost my phone. I’ll have to contact my parents sometime when this adventure is over.’ Our hopes are that that’s exactly what he’s doing,” Fellows said. “He’s out having an adventure somewhere, and when he gets back, he’ll contact his family. But no, we did not know him to be somebody that might be withdrawn or anything like that. Outgoing social. Want an adventure? Join in an adventure. That’s the Kenny that I knew.”
Despite taking five or six years of French in middle and high school, a French police report, dated Nov. 29, notes DeLand “doesn’t speak French well,” was in a “fragile mood” and “may be depressed.“
“I hope that I hope that he’s at peace wherever he is, that he’s enjoying the adventure, that he comes in closer relationship to God through whatever adventure or journey that he is on,” Fellows said.
Jim Conners, committee chair for Boy Scouts Troop 59, told Fox News Digital he also worked extensively with DeLand from the time he was age 10 to 18. For DeLand’s Eagle Scout Project, he elected to arrange for banners displaying photos of local veterans to be hung across the village of Clifton Springs.
DeLand coordinated with welders to make the signs, families of veterans to provide the photos and printing businesses to create the banners. They were initially hung for Veteran’s Day that year, but the project DeLand launched has continued annually for Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day since, Conners said.
Speaking from his church office in Clifton Springs, Fellows recalled the project’s impact.
“When the banners go up for Memorial Day, when they go up for Veterans Day, I have a smile on my face as I walk down our streets because it reminds me of Kenny, too, and of his service to our community,” Fellows told Fox News Digital. “And I feel like we’re giving back to Kenny and his family by doing these things to remember him and provide his family hope.”
“His project has given us reason to remember some of those people that are on the banners I get to interact with. Of course, they aren’t young people anymore. But to be able to talk to them and know though, what Kenny did matters to them, it reinforces in me how much he means to our community,” Fellows added. “And I hope that that gives you a flavor for who Kenny is and how important he is to us. It’s been a privilege and an honor to be able to work beside him and to remember him as we go forward with those two holidays in particular.”
Last weekend, Fellows estimated about 125-130 people showed up for a prayer service for Kenny. Describing the community’s response, Fellows said they expressed “gratefulness that they had a chance to gather.”
“We provided them with ways to share what was on their hearts. Through notes, we set up a system where they could write notes to the family and then put them in a binder and send them to the family so that they would have them to thumb through, read through as they need encouragement,” the pastor said. “And we also tied yellow ribbons on a tree outside of our church to remind us whenever we go down Main Street that we need to remember Kenny as well and hope for his return.”
DeLand, who graduated from Midlakes High School, also previously interned for New York state Sen. Pam Helming, a Republican, from 2019 to 2020. Helming said she first met DeLand when he was a senior in high school and presented him with a proclamation at his Eagle Scout ceremony.