Journalist Austin Tice has now passed six years in captivity in Syria, and his family and the government believe he’s alive and needs the assistance of continued public awareness to finally bring the Marine veteran home to Houston.
As the 2011 Arab Spring protests drew violent reprisals from President Bashar al-Assad that spiraled into civil war, Tice reported from Syria for McClatchy Newspapers, the Washington Post, and other outlets. His background as a U.S. Marine Corps infantry officer enabled him to get close to the fighting as a war correspondent, and he quickly earned the respect of the Free Syrian Army fighters.
“Spent the day at an FSA pool party with music by @taylorswift13. They even brought me whiskey. Hands down, best birthday ever,” reads Austin’s last tweet, on Aug. 11, 2012.
Tice disappeared outside Damascus as he was trying to travel to Lebanon.
On Sept. 26, 2012, a video titled “Austin Tice still alive,” showing the journalist blindfolded and praying to Jesus, was posted on a pro-Assad website, and raised alarms about the Syrian government’s potential role in his capture. The Assad regime has denied any involvement, though even during the reign of ISIS Tice’s parents said they had information that led them to believe Austin was not being held by the terror group.
A National Press Club event Tuesday featured Fred Ryan, publisher and CEO of The Washington Post, and Tim Grieve, vice president of news at McClatchy, along with Georgetown University president Jack DeGioia, North America director of Reporters Without Borders Margaux Ewen, and Austin’s parents Marc and Debra Tice.
Tice’s work won a George Polk Award for War Reporting, a John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award, and the McClatchy President’s Award for Journalism Excellence. A selection of his photographs on the children of Syria is now on display at the Press Club.
Ryan called for “the immediate and safe return of Austin Tice.”
“Austin is a talented journalist who took significant risks to cover a war that was really just beginning. The dispatches from his time embedded with Syrian rebels helped paint a picture of how a peaceful uprising turned into a rebel movement,” Ryan said. “His disappearance in 2012 reminds us all of the risks reporters face in order to shed light on the dark corners of the world, uncovering truth that others would prefer to keep hidden.”
Grieve addressed the rhetorical question of whether Tice was still news six years later, stressing that “we owe it to Austin and his family to keep telling his story.”
“We owe it to the people who rely on our work — they need to know that it comes at a cost, and sometimes at an almost unbearable cost,” he added.
“The support of the media for one of their own who is in a terrible situation is incredibly important,” Marc Tice said. “Spreading awareness — we have had a number of senior officials from our government, and even other governments, tell us that they are impacted by the letters, the phone calls, the tweets, the articles, that it makes them aware that it’s not just Mom and Dad and some of their very important and powerful friends making this rallying call.”
“When they understand that it’s important to a group of people, then they ratchet it up their priority list, and it’s on their mind, and it makes a difference — and we’ve heard this over and over and over again,” he added.
Austin’s father asked that the U.S. and Syrian governments “engage with each other in order to most quickly and safely ensure Austin’s return.”
Debra Tice walked attendees through some of her son’s photographs on display. “I want you to join him behind the camera. I want you to get a feeling for his heart,” she said. “Why did Austin go there? He just wanted to tell the story that was so young when he arrived.”
“Austin — we don’t know for sure, but we’re quite sure he’s not experiencing anything like this,” Marc Tice said of the warm atmosphere and food and drink at the Press Club. “So please use your prayers and your thoughts to think about Austin, to lift him up, to send a message to him — because we believe he can feel it — of strength and endurance and love, that he’ll be coming back. We’ll be fine — we think. But really, this gathering is about Austin, how much we want him home and how much support that everyone in this room has been providing.”
In April, the FBI announced a $1 million reward for information leading directly to the safe location, recovery, and return of Tice.
“For the Tice family, the absence of their son and brother has made for an unimaginable and devastating six years,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Tuesday. “I’m in awe of their perseverance as they continue their relentless push to bring him home. Today I renew my call for Austin to be released by his captors, and I’m thankful the Trump administration shares my desire to see him come home as soon as possible.”
State Department press secretary Heather Nauert confirmed to reporters Tuesday that “we believe him to be alive.”
“We remain deeply concerned about his wellbeing and we’re actively working to bring Austin Tice home. Now, I imagine a lot of you will have questions about where we think he might be, who you think might be holding him, etc., etc.,” Nauert said. “I appreciate your curiosity about that, but that is not something that we will get into out of not only consideration for the family but his own safety and security. We hope that we will have a positive conclusion to his case at some point soon.”