'Ask about Austin': Marine, journalist Austin Tice still a captive after 7 years

August 12, 2019

This story originally published Aug. 12, 2019 at 11:51 a.m. EST. It was updated Aug. 14 at 11:20 a.m.

It's been more than 2,557 days since Austin Tice, Marine, journalist, son and brother was captured in Syria.

He turned 38 on Sunday. Aug. 14 marks seven years since his abduction near Damascus -- seven years his family has worked tirelessly to free him.

In May 2012, Austin entered Syria from the Turkish border. Over the course of about three months, he made his way south into the suburbs of Damascus.

His parents were in touch with him most every day, either directly or through another journalist, his editor or friends. The day after his 31st birthday, Austin told his dad he was preparing to leave the country and planned to exit through Lebanon and come home to complete his final year of law school.

"He had warned us that he might be out of touch for a day or two because of the risk and circumstance of traveling through the countryside," his dad, Marc Tice, said in an interview with Connecting Vets. Austin got in a taxi, but he never made it to the Lebanese border.

When two days stretched into three, Austin's parents began to worry. Marc reached out to his editors and began calling around to see if anyone had heard from him. No one had.

Soon after The Washington Post told the State Department one of their journalists was missing in Syria.

"That's when this horrible story began," Marc said.

Now, seven years later, his family, journalists around the world and government officials are working to bring Austin home.

A few days before Austin's 38th birthday, Marc shared a message to his son: "Austin, if I'm speaking to him -- you're an amazing man. We're proud of you. We love you. We know how strong you are. And we know that you can hang in there until, until we can get you home."

Courtesy of the Tice family.

The family has yet to receive a credible claim of responsibility for Austin's detainment, but say they know he's not held by any opposition forces or terrorist groups.

"The most important thing that we know is he is alive," Marc said. "He is, as best the information we have can tell us, is being taken care of. There's every reason to keep working as hard as we can and our government can and others who are helping us to get him home.""It's most likely, highly likely, someone affiliated with, or in support of, the Syrian government," Marc said, sighing.

"It's the timing that's so difficult. It's been way too long. So we've learned -- while our hope never falters or changes -- we moderate our expectations. Today, I have hoped Austin would be home tomorrow and that doesn't change."

The Tices make trips to Lebanon as often as twice a year to meet with officials and others with connections or influence in Syria. His mom has been to Damascus herself, searching for her son for months at a time. But the Syrian government has not allowed them visas to visit the country for years.

"We're trying to find the key -- or someone who has the key -- to bringing Austin home," Marc said while raising awareness abroad and at home.

The family has launched a new effort -- the "Ask about Austin" campaign.

"We would love for his fellow veterans and Marines and the whole military world to take us up on this," Marc said.

The campaign asks people to contact Congress, the State Department, the White House, and the president, asking them "to make Austin's return an urgent priority. Seven years is crazy, crazy long. Austin is a veteran. He put his life on the line for his country."

Austin grew up with a fierce love for his country and concern for the world, his dad says. When he was 10, he pulled out his family's typewriter and wrote a letter to then-President Bill Clinton about the crisis in Haiti.

Tice would continue that drive to service by attending law school, and later enlisting in the military after witnessing the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon. He deployed to North Africa, and later to Iraq.

"It brought out the patriotism that he naturally had," Marc said. His mom, Debra, told him he was a natural Marine.

"No mostly grown person likes to admit that their mother is right all the time," Marc said. "But she was."

Courtesy of the Tice family.

Austin attended Marine Officer Candidate School and became an infantry officer. After tours in Iraq, he came back to law school. But the fact that Osama bin Laden was still out there "gnawed at him," his dad said. So as a Marine reservist, he asked to be sent to Afghanistan. "They were happy to have him," Marc said of his son.

Austin learned photography in Afghanistan, and again at Georgetown. When he started seeing early reports of the growing conflict in Syria, and weak reporting about it in the west, just before beginning his final year of law school, he decided he wanted to help.

With combat experience and a lifetime of writing, Austin understood what was likely happening in Syria, especially to civilians, and wanted to shine a light on their plight.

"He decided he had the tools mentally and physically to go to Syria and try to share the story of what was really happening there and help people understand the impact and consequences of that kind of conflict," Marc said.

About a month after Austin's abduction, video titled "Austin Tice is Alive" surfaced that appeared to show Austin taken captive by a group of men. But no credible information about who those men are has surfaced. It was the last time the public got a glimpse of Austin.

From his home in Houston, Marc talked about how his family has missed Austin and their plans for his return -- including all six of his siblings beating him with foam pool noodles for all the years of anxiety. A counter on their website marks each second he remains away from home.

"Even though it's 100 degrees, I'm sitting in an air-conditioned room. I can go anywhere I want, any time I want. We're not suffering," he said. "Austin is the one who has had his freedom taken away and that's what this is all about ... Our hope never changes. We know Austin is going to come home."

If you have any information about Austin Tice's detainment, contact the family at www.austinticefamily.com. A $1 million reward is offered by the FBI, with a matching reward from a coalition of media organizations. Want to get more connected to the stories and resources Connecting Vets has to offer? Click here to sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett.

Courtesy of the Tice family.