Journalist Austin Tice's Parents Are Still Fighting For Their Son's Return
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Six years ago this week, Austin Tice hopped in a taxi in a suburb of Damascus, Syria. Tice is a freelance journalist. He was wrapping up a reporting trip and about to head to the border with Lebanon. Tice never made it. He was detained at a checkpoint. The last sighting of him came in the fall of 2012 when a video was posted showing him blindfolded, being dragged up a hill by a bunch of armed men.
Tice's parents, Debra and Marc Tice, have been working ever since to secure his release. And they join me now. Welcome to you both.
DEBRA TICE: Thank you.
MARC TICE: Thank you, Mary Louise.
D. TICE: Thank you for having us.
KELLY: That video that I mentioned that posted weeks after he was detained - is that in fact the last time you saw his face, the last time you've heard his voice?
M. TICE: Yes, both - the last time we've seen him or heard his voice. And six years is a very, very long time.
KELLY: What can you share of what you know about who's holding him and where he is?
D. TICE: Well, as you mentioned, he was detained at a checkpoint. And so since he is in Syria, we are asking the Syrian government to engage but the United States government to secure his safe return.
KELLY: What makes you sure he's still in Syria? You're smiling. This is something...
D. TICE: Right.
KELLY: ...That you're hesitant to speak about...
D. TICE: Right.
KELLY: ...For fear of compromising his safety.
D. TICE: Right. I mean, we are certain that he is still in Syria.
KELLY: What can you share about who has him, who's holding him?
M. TICE: Well, you know, as I'm sure you know, no one has claimed responsibility. No one has credibly asked for anything for his release.
KELLY: There's been no ransom demand.
M. TICE: There's been no ransom demand. So, you know, honestly, we can't say definitively who's responsible. There's every indication - everything we know, everything that others including our government know indicate he is still in Syria and he is still alive. And for that reason, we want every effort to be made - every diplomatic effort to be made by our country, by the Syrian government to bring him home, bring him home safely as soon as they can.
KELLY: You've traveled to Syria to try to secure his release - both of you.
D. TICE: Right, no. I went to Syria in 2015. And in 2014, I lived in Damascus for 3 1/2 months, working and, you know, just pounding the pavement to raise awareness about Austin but even more to try to get information.
KELLY: Yeah. Understanding, again, that there are sensitivities here and you don't want to say anything, share any information that may jeopardize his security or negotiations, can you tell me who you met and whether you felt like you were getting help from the government in Syria and I guess whether you think that the regime in Syria is in a position to help here?
D. TICE: When I was in Damascus, there were certain entities that I had access to. You know, there is a quite functional justice ministry, and I was able to go with - to them and file some, you know, requests for information. And so, you know, there were channels that were open for me for being there.
KELLY: Is there anything in your life that prepared you...
D. TICE: (Laughter).
KELLY: ...To go to Damascus and negotiate with the justice ministry in the middle of a war?
D. TICE: I guess just putting my feet on the floor every morning somehow, Mary Louise. I don't know. I mean, did I ever see my future doing that when I was, you know, changing diapers and making spaghetti?
D. TICE: No. I couldn't have even imagined.
KELLY: What about the Trump administration's role? The Trump administration has made freeing American hostages a priority, says they are working on your son's case. How closely are they working with you?
D. TICE: Oh, thanks be to God. This administration is determined to bring Americans home and not allow them to be held against their will.
KELLY: More so than the Obama administration.
D. TICE: We certainly feel like that's the case.
KELLY: Why? What makes you say that?
D. TICE: We just see this administration leaning in. And also, as they say, the proof is in the pudding. I mean, we've certainly seen a lot of people walk free under this administration. You know, the count is high.
KELLY: This is a really basic question, but what keeps you going? What gives you hope to get up and face this day after day?
D. TICE: I have really deep faith. I really believe that God has a plan, and that really keeps me going. Also, undoubtedly that most profound love for my child keeps me going and knowing that, you know, when he came into this world, in order to come - right? - he was completely dependent on me to take good care of him and to get him here safely to begin with, right? And I think I still have that responsibility to him.
KELLY: Mr. Tice?
M. TICE: Well, you know, I guess my question would be, how can you do otherwise as a parent? You know, your child is not with you. Your child is being held against his will. We get up every day, and we think about, what can we do today to get Austin home? And, yes, there are times when it's difficult and we're tired and stressed and anxious, but it's, you know, very easy to think about Austin's situation. And when I think about that, you know, the troubles that I'm having pale in comparison. And, you know, it's a humbling feeling, and it makes me know that I can keep going; we can keep going until he's home.
KELLY: When we were trying to book this interview, your schedule here in D.C. was - it was so busy we weren't sure we were going to be able to schedule this. And then, Mr. Tice, you wrote again and said you we're going to find the time. And I'll quote what you wrote us. You said, one of Austin's plans when he was younger was to be an NPR correspondent, so talking with NPR about him is important to us, which touched me. And I very much hope we have the chance to meet him and interview him and give him a big ol' newsroom tour when he comes home.
D. TICE: Thank you.
M. TICE: Thank you.
M. TICE: We know you will. And we look forward to that as well.
KELLY: That is Marc and Debra Tice. Their son, journalist Austin Tice, was detained in Syria six years ago this week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.