US couple missing in Peru
2/26/2013 8:54:46 PM
US and Peruvian authorities are hunting for a young American couple who have been missing for a month after setting off on a bike tour of South America, a US official said Tuesday.
Garret Hand, 25, and Jamie Neal, 27, were last heard from on January 25, State Department deputy acting spokesman Patrick Ventrell said.
"According to their families they were traveling from Cusco to Lima and were expected to arrive in Lima on January 26," he told journalists.
Officials from the US embassy in Lima are working with Peruvian authorities to try to find the Californian couple, he said.
"The Peruvian authorities provided us all assurance they will do everything possible to locate the couple so we can help bring them home," Ventrell added.
News of the couple's disappearance came just two weeks after the US embassy in Peru issued a warning to tourists of a "credible" threat that kidnappers could target Americans around the legendary Inca citadel of Machu Picchu.
Embassy personnel have been barred from any personal travel to the area around the southern city of Cusco, though the embassy voiced confidence in Peru's ability to protect foreign nationals.
"The embassy has received information that members of a criminal organization may be planning to kidnap US citizen tourists in the Cusco and Machu Picchu area," it warned in a statement.
Ventrell stressed however that there was not necessarily a connection between "what happened to this couple and that note that we put out."
Consular officers are in contact with relatives the couple, who had been posting regular Facebook updates of their travels. Neal's sister, Jennifer, told a CNN affiliate nothing had been posted for some time.
"I haven't seen a video of her since January 25, so to me anything could've happened since then, you know? I hope that she's just having a blast and that they're doing what they went to do," Jennifer Neal said.
Some areas the couple planned to visit however are out of Internet and cellphone range, and the manager of a small hotel in rain-forest city of Iquitos told Peruvian police they had stayed there on February 16, CNN added.
They then left for a 15-day river trek to the city of Naplo, it added.
According to a Facebook post from The Pedaler Bike Shop, where Neal worked, the couple "were on a South American bike tour that would have been completed this Spring."