GATLINBURG (WATE) – The family of a Gatlinburg man who went missing after Tuesday’s terror attacks in Brussels said they were mistakenly informed that the missing couple had been found.
Sheila Shell says she got a call from the State Department at around 4:15 p.m. Wednesday, telling them Justin and Stephanie Shults had been found in a hospital with unknown injuries, but they didn’t know the severity of the injuries or which hospital they were in. Levi Sutton, Justin Shults’ brother shared the news on Facebook, then Shell said they received a call from a social worker in Belgium, who is with Stephanie Shults’ mom, that said the family was given incorrect information.
“We called Senator Corker’s office and we gave them the information that a social worker from Belgium had called me and asked me where I got my information from,” said Shell in a phone call with WATE 6 On Your Side. “I had told her I got a call from the state department and she said, ‘well that information is incorrect. They have not been found and they are not in any hospital that we have here.’”
Dale Branam, Justin Shults’ uncle, was devastated to hear the good news was false.
“I was so happy and excited on the way back from Knoxville and then to hear that, it was like ripping my heart back out in my chest again,” Branam said.
Corker’s office issued a statement saying: “At this time, neither Belgium nor U.S. officials have confirmed that Justin and Stephanie Shults have been located. 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.”
Shell said they were heading to Atlanta to fly to Brussels on Thursday and the news was just devastating. She said she has been on an emotional roller coaster. The mother said both of the companies they work for had been searching for them as well.
“Being in a hospital with injuries made me hopeful that I’m going to go over there now and find them. Then, Of course I shared the news and it got shared and Levi is devastated. He is just devastated because he shared the news and he says it makes it look bad. I say honey, you were just telling what they you that they told me,” said the Gatlinburg mother.
The Gatlinburg mother said Wednesday she last heard from her son, a Gatlinburg-Pittman High School graduate, on Saturday when he left Nashville to head back to Brussels, where he lives with his wife Stephanie.
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Shell said she woke up Monday morning to the news of the attack, and a missed phone call from Stephanie Shult’s dad. He told her they’d been at the airport to send Stephanie Shults’s mom back to the U.S. after a visit. The trio were there during the attack.
The concerned mother said Stephanie Shults’ mother was knocked down in the blast, but is okay. Once she got up, she wasn’t able to find Stephanie or Justin and no one was able to reach them.
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Justin Shults was in Paris the day of the most recent Paris attack. Shell was unable to reach him then, but later found out he had been on a flight out of the city at the time.
Shell said the Brussels government had been withholding information from her. She said she’s called all of the hospitals, but keeps being told they aren’t allowed to release any information, including whether Stephanie and Justin are patients or not. Shell said she has also been in constant communication with the state department and embassy with the help of Sen. Bob Corker’s office.
“My thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by the horrific terror attacks in Brussels, especially the family of Justin and Stephanie Shults,” said Corker. “Our office remains in close contact with the family and with the State Department.”
Family members are holding out hope that Justin and Stephanie are doing okay. Right now, they’re simply asking for prayers from the community as they wait for any sort of update.
“I just pray for his mom’s sake and the family’s sake that they’re still alive,” Branam said.