LOUISVILLE (AP) — A young couple originally from Tennessee and Kentucky have not been seen since they waved goodbye to the woman’s mother at the international airport in Brussels, one of two sites in the city where terrorist bomb attacks killed at least 34 people.
Justin and Stephanie Shults were dropping Stephanie’s mother, Carolyn Moore, off at the airport and were watching her walk through security when the bombs went off Tuesday, Stephanie’s cousin, Larry Newsom, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Carolyn Moore turned to wave goodbye and they waved back, then the bomb exploded and knocked Moore to the ground, Newsom said. She searched but could not find them in the chaos.
Moore has stayed in Brussels and Shults’ father is on his way there to check hospitals, Newsom said.
“We hope they’ve just been helping people, which is very much their nature,” he said. “But we can’t believe they wouldn’t have checked in. It’s very concerning that we’re a day out and we don’t know where they are.”
By late Wednesday, relatives were still awaiting news of the couple, and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., released a statement at the families’ request.
“At this time, neither Belgium nor U.S. officials have confirmed that Justin and Stephanie Shults have been located,” the statement said. “We are thankful for the outpouring of love and support we have received at this difficult time and ask for prayers for Justin and Stephanie.”
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attacks at the airport and a subway in Brussels that injured hundreds and left scores unaccounted for.
Justin’s grandfather, Bobby Shults of Sevierville, Tennessee, said he has been watching news reports constantly, hoping for an update on the couple.
“We haven’t been told anything,” he said. “We would like to be told something. We’d just like to know what’s happening.”
Stephanie Shults is from Lexington, Kentucky, and Justin Shults is from Gatlinburg, Tennessee, according to their Facebook pages and local news media reports.
They both graduated in 2009 from Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management with master of accountancy degrees, according to university spokesman Jim Patterson.
The couple had moved to Brussels in 2014, Newsom said. He said they were excited to live in Europe and traveled frequently.
“They really are very genuine, sweet kids,” he said. “They’ve invited all kinds of people from our family to visit them. They say, ‘Oh, come see us in Belgium, it’s wonderful. You can take the train anywhere.’ They’re that generous. They wanted their family to come experience what they’ve experienced.”
The Mars food and candy corporation identified Stephanie Shults as an employee in Belgium.
The company posted on its Facebook page that is has been unable to contact her and asked anyone with information on her whereabouts to get in touch.
“We are hoping for the best,” the company wrote. “And our thoughts are with Stephanie’s and Justin’s families.”