A Rutland couple’s relief and celebration that their daughter had been located alive in Haiti turned to shock and disbelief last night when they learned that a mistake had been made and she was still missing.
Britney Gengel (telegram.com)
Britney Gengel, 19, a student at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., was among four Lynn students reported found yesterday morning, but a rescue team told the school later in the day that the report was false, Lynn spokesman Jason Hughes said on a conference call.
Lynn president Kevin M. Ross told reporters that he had spoken last night with Len and Cherylann Gengel, who had flown to Florida yesterday for an anticipated reunion with their daughter.
“It was very somber, as you can imagine,’’ Ross said. “They are devastated by this news. But I will tell you that they are still a very hopeful group.’’
The mistake occurred when a rescue group in Haiti told the university that Gengel and three other students had been found. Later, however, the group told the school that it had been mistaken and that the students were still unaccounted for. The school also said two faculty members were missing.
In Rutland yesterday, a mass of yellow flowers, ribbons, and balloons decorated the mailbox of the Watson Lane home of the Gengels.
Cherylann Gengel said she received a telephone call at 9:15 a.m. saying Britney and 10 other Lynn University students working in Haiti had been evacuated by helicopters to the Dominican Republic.
The students were in Haiti for a semester program working with the poor.
As of 10 a.m., 32 members of the large Gengel family had arrived at the home and were celebrating what they believed was the good news.
Cherylann Gengel said she had just spoken to her daughter on the phone about an hour before the devastating earthquake.
“She was happy and loving it, so when I got the phone call that she was in trouble, I said, ‘Oh no, I just talked to her,’ ’’ she said.
Efforts to reach her daughter by text message and telephone had failed, and Britney’s whereabouts were unknown by the college for more than 24 hours, leaving family members frantic with worry.
State Senator Stephen M. Brewer, Democrat of Barre, who has been in contact with family, said late last night that he had not spoken with any family members since the mistake was announced.
“This is like a bad dream hearing this,’’ he said.
Earlier, displaying his happiness over the report that his daughter had been rescued, Len Gengel had posted the news on his Facebook page. He wrote: “She’s Alive she just got rescued!!!’’
“I went from hell on earth as a parent to just elation when I found out she was alive,’’ he said. That turned to misery late last night when the mistake about his daughter’s whereabouts surfaced.
According to the university, the group was to have been registered and staying at the Hotel Montana on Tuesday evening. The school had been trying to contact the group since the quake and sent a rescue team.
Britney Gengel is studying social work, relatives said. The group flew into Haiti this week to work with Food for the Poor, a faith-based nonprofit.
Cherylann Gengel said her daughter, a sophomore whose birthday is next week, had seemed to have found her calling in Haiti.
“From the first day she loved it,’’ Gengel said. “She called and said, ‘Mom, I know what I’m going to do with the rest of my life.’ ’’
Also yesterday, officials from a Boston-based order of Anglican nuns say they have learned that three of its nuns survived the massive earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
“We have heard that they have been sighted,’’ said Sister Carolyn Darr, mother superior of the Sisters of St. Margaret. “We have not heard where they are.’’
“We know they’re alive,’’ she said.
The convent in which they lived on the grounds of the Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Port-au-Prince was destroyed, along with the cathedral and a school, Darr said.
The sisters, who established their convent in Port-au-Prince in 1927, run a home for the elderly. There was no immediate word on its residents.
“We’re just worried,’’ Sister Kristina Nordhaus said. “We really would feel much better if we could actually hear their voices.’’
“We’re just waiting, as so many people are,’’ Darr said.
The nuns were among a growing number of people in Haiti with ties to Massachusetts who have either had word of their survival passed on or broken through the communications breakdown caused by the earthquake.
Globe correspondent Stephanie Geisler contributed to this report.
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