Wednesday marks seven years since journalist Austin Tice was kidnapped by supporters of the Assad government at a checkpoint in Damascus, Syria, as he reported on the civil war that had just started there.
All we’ve seen of him since 2012 is a video of Tice five weeks later, blindfolded and bound, in distress, surrounded by men with firearms.
But his parents, Debra and Marc Tice (@MarcATice), say their son is still alive.
“We know he’s alive because we’ve had information from the highest level of our government that he is,” Debra says.
They say through staying focused, digging through information, spreading awareness about Austin and through prayer, the Tice family has remained hopeful.
“We never had any doubt,” Debra says. “And also there’s no news to the contrary, which I can tell you as the military mom, you very quickly learn no news is good news.”
Recently, Debra and Marc wrote an open letter in the Washington Post.
“Every single day Austin remains in detention his story is news. It is current and ongoing news each time the sun rises on another day – now more than 2,540 days, almost seven years,” the open letter says.
This week, the National Press Club Journalism Institute launched a new initiative called AskAboutAustin.org to keep his name in the headlines.
On feeling any frustration with the Syrian and U.S. governments
Debra: “We don’t have frustration with the United States government. We do have support across the administration from the White House to the State Department and course we have a special presidential envoy. We still have frustration on the Syrian side because they have not engaged with us in these seven years.”
On the massive FBI reward for information and the new sources that came forward
Marc: “Frankly, why we are so happy in a horrible way to be talking to you again because every time Austin’s situation gets broad exposure, it increases the chance that people are going to hear it [or] people that might actually know something. And that was the case when the reward was first issued, coupled with regional advertising and notices that Reporters Without Borders put out. And it did trigger some folks’ memories and it did generate some contacts that were relevant to Austin.”
On the moment that Austin Tice was nearing release — then it fell through
Debra: “There was the critical moment. We were quite hopeful in 2016 that we were very close to his release. And bureaucracy happened on the side of the pond and so it couldn’t go forward. I could be more specific, but it wouldn’t be prudent.”
Marc: “Well, let me put it this way. One of the things that we’ve had to deal with — and you know, I always have to interject that what we’re dealing with is trivial compared to what Austin is dealing with — but we have turnover. We have people change assignments if they’re in, say, the State Department or the FBI. We had an election in 2016. So there was a full flip of senior positions in our government. So it becomes difficult to maintain momentum that’s developed when you have a changing cast.”
On celebrating his birthday this year
Debra: “His birthday was Sunday, and he was 38 years old on Sunday. One of my favorite days just remembering the very first time I got to meet him and hold him and look into his eyes. It’s one of the best memories of my life.”
On how they are staying strong
Marc: “We’re doing it like we have from the beginning. I’d like to think we’re a little smarter now. But the proof is in the pudding. Austin is still detained, so apparently we haven’t gotten smart enough. But every day that comes around, we’re trying to think of something to do. People reach out to us. We reach out to them. Knowing that Austin is alive [and] knowing that he will come home, everything we do is around making that happen faster.”
Debra: “Pray first. Pray in the middle. Pray at the end.”
Marc: “Absorb as much information as we can. You know, all the news of the region [and] all the political and geopolitical news. Just looking for information that might create an opportunity or an opening or a name of someone that might be influential that we could get in touch with.”
On his detention in Syria
Debra: “One thing that we haven’t pursued aggressively that I think we could change course on is I would like to consider pursuing Austin’s release through judicial process. He was undoubtedly, indisputably, he was in the country without the proper documentation and there is a penalty for that. And that is how the American and the Canadian were recently released through a very functional judicial process in Syria.”
On why they are publicly asking for information regarding Austin Tice’s detention
Marc: “That water is way under the bridge. It became public without any action of ours. While that might be really good advice if a family’s individuals are involved in immediate discussions and negotiations, but that’s not where we are. It’s where we want to be. So enlisting support and spreading awareness is one of the best things we can do.”
On why they are so vocal
Debra: “I always wear a Free Austin Tice pin because I want that conversation. And so people that say, ‘What’s that?’ or ‘Who’s that?’ So for me, it’s keeping that door open. Please, please ask me. Please talk to me about my son.”
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.