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Family of journalist Austin Tice struggles with silence on kidnapping

Austin Tice was kidnapped near Damascus in August. His family went to Beirut recently in hopes of extending their reach into Syria and finding out more about who might be holding him.

By Staff writer / December 11, 2012

Debra and Marc Tice, parents of Austin Tice give an interview at the Commodore Hotel on November 14, in Beirut, Lebanon. Debra and Marc came to Lebanon in the hopes of finding information about their son, Austin, who was kidnapped in Syria while working as a freelance journalist covering the conflict.

Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor

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Beirut, Lebanon

"There's not a manual for this," says Debra Tice, clutching her husband's hand as they sit in the lobby of Beirut's Commodore Hotel.  

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Mrs. Tice and her husband, Marc, were in Beirut recently as part of their ongoing quest to find their son, Austin, who was kidnapped in Syria in August while working as a freelance journalist. It's a journey that has taken the Houston family to the State Department, put them in front of media cameras, and introduced them to a world of backchannel communications and international intrigue that they knew absolutely nothing about just a year ago.

"We came here to extend our reach into Syria," Mrs. Tice says. Her husband adds, "We want to reach as widely as we can in hopes that the person who has the ability [to release him] will show some compassion to us."

The number of kidnapped journalists has climbed as news organizations have covered everything from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars to the Syrian civil war alongside fighters. And with the rise in the number of reporters operating in dangerous places like Syria – and with many parties seeing value in targeting them – many expect the threat to persist. 

Yet no uniform playbook on handling such crises has emerged, largely because each situation is unique. And while that makes sense, it leaves families struggling with agonizing choices as they try to calculate which steps are most likely to secure a safe release for their loved one.

Sifting through sensitive questions

Any number of questions arise: Should we keep it quiet? Or would it be better to go public? Will more pressure help my son get released more quickly? Or will it scare his captors, putting him in further danger?

"The right situation on going public depends on why that person was abducted in the first place," a security contractor who works in the region said in an e-mail interview. "Money? Politics? Islamic fundamentalism? Kidnap for ransom?" 

Austin Tice was reporting in Daraya, outside Damascus, when he went missing in mid-August. The Tices became concerned when several days elapsed without a word from their son, who previously had checked in regularly. His disappearance rapidly became public, with McClatchy News Service and the Washington Post, for whom Tice had been reporting as a freelancer, posting stories about his disappearance. The Tices then launched what has become a multi-month search.

But despite all their efforts, the Tices say they and the news organizations have little information to work off of.  "It has really been a prolonged silence – an excruciating silence," Debra says.

"We don't know with any certainty where he is or who has him," says Marc Tice.  "We could speculate ourselves crazy."

The parents speak wearily about the waiting game they and their six other children – Austin is the oldest – are playing as they wait for news. The situation has changed agonizingly little since his kidnapping in August, with the exception of one video of Austin in captivity that was made public.

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