Concern grows for Oakland couple missing in Peru

February 26, 2013 12:12:02 AM PST
"We want them to come home safely," Francine Fitzgerald said during a mother's impassioned plea for help. It's been nearly a month since she's heard from her son who was on a bicycle tour of Peru with his girlfriend. Family and friends of the Garrett Hand and Jaime Neal are desperate for information and have heard nothing from Peru.

Jamie Neal is on leave from the Pedaler bike shop in El Sobrante where she worked. In just a few days, her fellow employees have printed flyers and raised $4,000 for information leading to the couple's safe return. That's all their families want too. "We're just very concerned because we haven't heard from Garrett and we want him to come home, now," Fitzgerald told ABC7 news Monday.

Her home in Concord but her thoughts are more than 4,000 miles away with her son Garrett and Jamie. "Somebody knows where they are and we want them to come home safely, and anything anybody can do to help us to get them home safely we appreciate," she said.

Both 25-years-old, the missing couple was on a 6-month bike tour. They visited Argentina and Chile, and were in Peru when all communication via Facebook and Skype abruptly stopped. There's also been no activity in Garrett's bank account which he had been using regularly during the trip.

Garrett's father, Alan Hand, said authorities in Peru do have surveillance video of the couple leaving a Lima bus station on January 26. There was also a possible sighting of them getting on a boat to the Amazon. "We're just hanging in there. You don't know what you don't know. So we're, by faith, holding on that they're OK," he said.

Garrett's parents and sisters have created a war room in their home to keep track of all tips and information. The last Facebook postings by the couple came on January 25 and they had posted many carefree photos in the days leading up to their disappearance. Initially, their families were not too concerned, thinking the couple was just out of Wi-Fi or internet range, but then the U.S. State Department issued an ominous warning.

"We see that the U.S. embassy posted a warning to U.S. citizens that there is very substantial evidence of criminal activity, of kidnapping of U.S. citizens in the month of February," Francine said.

There is no indication or information that the couple has been kidnapped, but that is certainly a concern. Garrett has traveled all over the world according to his family. They say they're confident he has the wherewithal to get through whatever might be happening, but their concern is growing by the day.

The threat of kidnappings in Peru has prompted two East Bay high schools to cancel student trips.

The Bentley School in Lafayette has hosted trips to Peru in the past, but two weeks ago they pulled the plug on the day before students were to fly out.

School officials got a warning from the U.S. embassy.

"They put out a travel advisory saying there a possibility of kidnapping in the area and I asked if they would send their own people and they said absolutely not and that's when we canceled the trip," school spokesperson Brian Thomas said.

Thirty students had to give up the chance to learn the culture and do community service.

"It was kind of relieved that we didn't end up going with a situation like that," student Griffin Dey said. "Like, I was bummed we couldn't go on the trip, but I'm glad it was cancelled for that reason."

The Head-Royce School in Oakland also cancelled a trip to Peru for 25 students.

"I was relieved," parent Martha Chavarin-Romero said. "I was disappointed, of course, but I was relieved to know that the school was acting proactively."


Load Comments