Parents of reporter missing in Syria plead for news
BEIRUT (AFP) – Debra Tice wakes up each morning hoping her life will have changed and the 11 months since her son Austin disappeared in Syria will turn out to have been a bad dream.
But since she and her husband Marc learnt that their 31-year-old first-born had gone missing while reporting in the war-torn country, not a single morning has given her that relief.
"I just wake up and think, I woke up again and nothing has changed, it wasn't a dream," she told AFP in Beirut, where she and her husband are looking for information about their missing child.
"I put my feet on the floor and I build a wall around my emotions and I just think about what strength I need for today," she added.
Austin Tice was in law school in the United States when he decided to head to Syria last year to try to kickstart a journalism career.
He contributed to the Washington Post and McClatchy newspapers, among others, and was awarded a prestigious Polk award after his disappearance in August 2012.
Since then, his parents and his six brothers and sisters have had almost no information about him.
In September, a video showing him purportedly being held by radical Islamists surfaced, but questions were raised about whether those shown in the video were really militants, and Marc Tice says the recording "raised more questions than it answered".
Still, he says, the video proved their son was still alive -- a rare moment of relief in an otherwise agonising search for information that has included two trips to the region and numerous meetings with anyone who will talk to them.
"We will meet with anybody," Debra says. "If you tell me a taxi driver on a street corner in the middle of nowhere knows how to get my son home, I will go meet with him."
"We would go to Damascus, if it was purposeful, if we were invited," adds Marc.
US officials believe Tice is being held by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, which is fighting an armed rebellion triggered by a bloody crackdown on democracy protests that broke out in March 2011.
The Tices say the Syrian government denies any record of their son being in the country, but has agreed to search for him.
"Honestly, we're not that interested in who or why, we're interested in how do we get him back, what is needed to return him to us safely," Marc says.
As part of their search, the family has set up a website, www.austinticefamily.com, where anyone with information can contact them.
And they urge their son's captors to reach out.
"We ask you to keep him safe, take care of him, let him know that he's loved and people are looking for him and especially let us know how we can bring him home again."
In the meanwhile, Tice's family are trying to lead something approaching a normal life, celebrating birthdays and graduations.
"You can just never really give your heart fully to joy, because there's this 'where's our big guy?' feeling," Debra says.
"He's so profoundly missing for us."
The separation is particularly hard for Debra, who homeschooled her seven children.
"The only thing I ever wanted to do was to be a mummy of lots of kids!" she laughs.
Tice is one of at least seven reporters missing in Syria, including James Foley, an American video contributor to AFP who has not been heard from since last November.
The Tices say they have reached out to the families of other missing reporters to share information and support.
"It's a club that the membership price is very steep, no one wants to join," Debra says quietly.
She thinks often about how she will react when she is reunited with Austin.
"You know that feeling when your child lets go of your hand in the mall?" she says with a smile.
"You're frantic and you're looking, and then you find them, and first you hug them and then you spank them? It's that kind of reaction."