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An adventurous Oakland couple who had been out of contact with family members for a month - and believed to be missing - were heard from on Tuesday in Peru, much to the relief of their families and global social media community rallying for their safe return.
Garrett Hand and Jamie Neal, both 25, were aboard a small vessel on the Napo River on their way to Ecuador, according to Neal’s sister, Jennifer. The U.S. Embassy told Jennifer that Hand reached out to Peruvian officials after being informed the couple was the subject of a search.
"They said the police reported to them Garrett called them over the phone and gave his passport number and confirmed he and my sister are in good health and that they're fine,” Neal said. "Someone from a town they were passing through had seen them and had been watching the news and told them they need to call the local authorities.”
Neal told NBC Bay Area she was happy to get the news, but won’t be completely at peace until either Hand or her sister makes contact with a family member.
“I still have not talked to my sister," she said. "If it's true, I feel great I'm so glad. I want my sister to be having a blast over there and having fun. I don't want to worry about her and think anything bad happened to her.”
Neal is hoping to hear her sister’s voice tomorrow.
"Supposedly they were going to be hitting the border in Ecuador tomorrow and the authorities were going to make them call their family members when they get there,” Neal said.
The avid cyclists left for South America at the end of November and regularly chronicled their journey through Facebook, but the updates stopped on Jan. 25, along with any financial activity on the couple’s bank accounts and credit cards.
The couple was unaware of the search effort, which picked up steam over late last week when family members took to social media to generate awareness and help. The family set up a Facebook page called Missing in Peru Garrett Hand and Jamie Neal.
On Feb. 13, the U.S. Embassy in Lima warned Americans of a potential kidnapping threat by an unnamed criminal organization in the Cusco area. The embassy reported the threat to be "credible at least through the end of February."
Francine Fitzgerald, the mother of Garrett Hand released the following statement:
"We have received phone calls from the U.S. Embassy and Peruvian government that my son Garrett Hand and his girlfriend Jamie Neal have been spotted in a remote village in Peru. The information told to me is that they are on a boat on the river and that they are sending a plane to find them. I am told to expect information by tomorrow sometime.
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. This young couple is someone’s son and brother, someone’s daughter and sister and United States citizens. We have not heard from them since January 25, nor have they accessed bank accounts since that time. We have only the worst to consider as to why.
Thank you those of you who are helping – friends, family, reporters, officials – and our task is done when Garrett and Jamie are home and safe."