(August 25, 2004) — BRIGHTON — Police have contacted a West African man who was recruited to play soccer and then disappeared.
Thomas Fokuo, 20, of Ghana, contacted police Tuesday afternoon and said he was safe and in the United States but not in New York state, said Sgt. John Mallaber.
Fokuo arrived in Rochester on Friday to study and play soccer at Monroe Community College. He was with his host family Friday night. On Saturday, his soccer coach gave him a ride to watch a soccer scrimmage at the college. That was the last time he was seen.
Phone calls reacting to media coverage about Fokuo's disappearance placed Fokuo at the train station in Rochester about 2 p.m. Saturday. He tried to buy a ticket but did not have enough money. So he left the station in a taxi, Mallaber said during a news conference Tuesday.
MCC officials received e-mail messages Monday night between 6:45 and 7 p.m. that are believed to be from Fokuo. Those messages indicate that he is safe, but his location is still unknown, Mallaber said. In the e-mails, Mallaber said, Fokuo seemed uncertain about being in Rochester.
On Tuesday afternoon, Mallaber said he spoke with Fokuo on the phone
"I will know (Wednesday) evening when to expect Thomas back in Rochester," Mallaber said, saying he was assured Fokuo would be back by Friday. "I didn't ask specifics about why he left because he already is apprehensive about the police."
Mallaber said he doesn't understand why Fokuo would want to leave and that it is unlikely that he has any established business or personal relationships in the United States. His family in Ghana and temporary host family have not heard from him. The host family, Mallaber said, is very upset and is cooperating with the police department.
It was believed that Fokuo might be trying to find a way to return to Africa. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were notified that Fokuo was a missing person. Therefore, he would not be allowed to leave the country.
Cynthia Cooper, MCC spokeswoman, said that Fokuo was awarded a full scholarship to attend MCC in the fall and play soccer. Coaches at MCC heard about Fokuo through networking with other coaches, a common practice.
Fokuo came to Rochester independently, but since he came before classes start on Sept. 7, the college arranged for temporary housing with a host family. He was planning to live in the residence halls on campus once the semester started.
Richard Ryder, assistant vice president of student services, said many efforts are made by MCC to make the transition for international students as smooth as possible. There are more than 87 international students at MCC — nine are on sports teams.
Students are given an international orientation and special counselors.
Students are usually interested in coming to the United States to attend a college like MCC with reputable, competitive sports teams, Ryder said.