Anguish for relatives of Americans missing in Brussels
Families of Americans missing in Brussels since this week’s deadly suicide bombings by Islamist militants were desperate on Thursday for any word of their loved ones after a false alarm that a missing U.S. couple had been found.
About a dozen Americans were hurt in Tuesday’s attacks on Brussels’ airport and a metro station, but there have been no confirmed U.S. fatalities so far, according to U.S. officials, who added that the situation remained very fluid.
At least 31 people were killed and more than 270 wounded in the blasts that were claimed by the Islamic State militant group and sent shockwaves across Europe and the world.
Among the U.S. citizens still unaccounted for were Justin and Stephanie Shults, originally from Tennessee and Kentucky but now living in Belgium. Adding to their relatives’ anxiety, the Shults were wrongly said to have been located on Wednesday.
Justin’s brother, Levi Sutton, said a State Department official told his mother the couple had been found, but that an hour later a social worker called the mother to say the information was incorrect.
“Nothing is clear at this point so I don’t want to say anything else,” Sutton told Reuters in a Facebook message.
It was not immediately clear what led to the confusion but when asked about the Shults family being given incorrect information, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, “We certainly apologize for any misunderstanding.”
The couple have not been heard from since they dropped off Stephanie’s mother at the Brussels airport shortly before the check-in area was rocked by the powerful explosion.
Stephanie Shults works for food company Mars Inc., and Justin is employed by a filtration system company.
“We are working with authorities, and if you have any information that will help locate Stephanie and Justin, please message us directly,” Mars said in a Facebook post.
Sutton said on Twitter that his mother would be arriving in Belgium on Thursday, “and hopefully she can get some answers.”
Stephanie’s mother had her hearing damaged by the blast but has vowed to remain in Belgium until her daughter and son-in-law are found, her sister Betty Newsom told NBC station WAVE.
“OFFICIAL AMERICANS” MISSING
The chairman of the U.S. House intelligence committee, Representative Devin Nunes of California, said on Wednesday that the attacks may have targeted Americans..
The State Department’s Toner said the government was aware of about a dozen U.S. citizens who had been wounded in the attacks and had no indication that any U.S. citizens had been killed.
He said among those still unaccounted for were two “official Americans,” meaning they were U.S. government employees or their family members. That description could include both State Department employees, military employees or others, he said.
The United States has a large diplomatic and military presence in Brussels, including at the U.S. missions to Belgium, the European Union and NATO, which are headquartered in the city.
Counted among the Americans confirmed injured in the bombings were three missionaries from the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as a U.S. Air Force airman and four members of his family.
Sister and brother Sascha and Alexander Pinczowski, whose citizenship was unclear but who lived in New York, were also at the airport and are unaccounted for, U.S. media reports said.
The New York Daily News reported that the siblings had just arrived in Belgium and that they were speaking by telephone with a relative when the attackers struck.
“Please help find my boyfriend and his sister Alex Pinczowski Sascha Pinczowski,” a New York woman named Cameron Cain appealed on Twitter.
(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston and Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, N.C.; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Alistair Bell)