Oakland couple in Peru assures friends they are alive

February 27, 2013 5:54:19 PM PST
An Oakland couple reported missing in Peru posted messages on their Facebook pages this afternoon confirming that they are alive and well.

The messages from Garrett Hand, 25, and his girlfriend, Jamie Neal, 27, were posted around 3:30 p.m., a few hours after a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru, confirmed that the pair had been located "safe and sound."

In his online message today, Hand wrote simply, "I am alive."

On her Facebook page, Neal apologized for worrying family and friends this afternoon and said, "We've been traveling though the Amazon and the villages do not have electricity let alone internet or phones. We are now stuck on a military base in Pantoja, Peru...and everyone is interviewing us and taking photos...saying that we are now famous in Peru."

The social media postings are the first signs of life in over a month from the couple, who left on a South American bicycle trip in late November.

When frequent online postings, bank account activity and other communication from the pair stopped abruptly a month ago, the couple's families became worried and contacted authorities, said Hand's sister, Concord resident Larkin McGowan.

Also alarming was a travel warning issued by the U.S. Embassy on Feb. 13 of the threat of a criminal group that may have been planning to kidnap Americans in the Cusco area, where the missing pair last posted online updates.

Around 12:30 p.m. today, the embassy in Lima issued a statement saying that the couple "reported missing by their families in Peru" had been found.

The message also thanked the Peruvian National Police and government for the "tremendous efforts" taken to locate the pair, but did not elaborate further.

In her own online statement Tuesday afternoon, Hand's mother, Francine Fitzgerald, said she had heard from Peruvian authorities that the pair had been spotted in a remote village in the Amazon, but still needed more information.

Fitzgerald is set to hold a news conference in Concord this evening to give an update on Hand and his girlfriend's whereabouts, McGowan said.

"While I appreciate the extraordinary efforts of the media, the U.S. and Peruvian governments, until I hear from and see my son directly, we will not stop," she wrote.

Family members said that Hand, a commercial fisherman, and Neal, who works at the Pedaler Bike Shop in El Sobrante, are both well-traveled, avid bicyclists.

By this afternoon, the local bike shop had raised $4,000 toward a reward for the couple's safe return, an employee said.


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