Nearly 12 years after her son's kidnapping in Syria, Austin Tice's mother remains persistent

The FBI is offering a $1 million reward for the safe location and return of Austin Tice.
Marc and Debra Tice, the parents of Austin Tice, who is missing in Syria, speak during a press conference
Posted at 3:13 PM, May 23, 2024

The family photos document a life surrounded by a loving family and a love for adventure. As Debra Tice will tell you, her son, Austin, had a typical upbringing. Asked if she knew her son would eventually become a reporter, Tice said, "He always dreamed of it."

For nearly a dozen years now, though, it's her first-born child, Austin Tice, who's been missing from family gatherings.

The former U.S. Marine and freelance journalist, then 31 years old, disappeared in August of 2012 while covering the Syrian civil war for news outlets such as the Washington Post, CBS News and McClatchy newspapers.

A few weeks later, a short video appeared on social media, showing him blindfolded with his apparent captors. No one claimed responsibility for his kidnapping, and he hasn't been seen or heard from since. For Debra Tice, it's been heart-wrenching thinking about how her son is faring after nearly 12 years in captivity.

"When I think about that — think about that being how long you were in school before you graduated from high school," she said.

In the years since her son's kidnapping, Tice has turned into a one-woman advocate to try and get her son released. We spoke with her in Washington, D.C., during her most recent trip to the nation's capital this month.

"I'm always trying to get messages into the White House, of course, and up on Capitol Hill, and also meeting with people that I know in the city that can help," Tice said.

The FBI is offering a $1 million reward for the safe location and return of Austin Tice.

Debra Tice met with President Joe Biden in 2022, and he has said the U.S. knows "with certainty" that Austin Tice is alive.

In response, in 2022 the Syrian government denied it was holding any Americans.

Unlike the "wrongful detention" cases of basketball player Brittney Griner and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, U.S. officials consider Tice's case to be in a different category.

In a statement to Scripps News, a U.S. State Department spokesperson called it "an unacknowledged detention," adding that "Syria has never acknowledged holding Austin Tice, but we know with certainty that he has been held by the government of Syria."

Earlier this month, officials spoke directly about their interactions with Tice's family.

"We have obviously been engaged with Austin Tice's family, including his mother. I will just say I think every parent in this room cannot imagine what it is she must be going through," U.S. State Dept. Spokesperson Matthew Miller said during a media briefing on May 7.

Debra Tice said officials have spoken to her about her son's case.

"Well, I mean we know he's still alive. That's the big question everybody has, you know, 'Is he still alive?'" she said. "I'm deeply appreciative of getting little whispers that they are treating him well — whatever that means when you're in that situation."

Still, Debra Tice remains frustrated by the slow progress in her son's case.

"When you see how quickly we responded with the situation in Israel and working on the Hamas hostages, when you see the efforts for Brittney Griner, you see what Austin is missing," she said. "It's very clear what Austin is missing from his government."

Tice, though, said she is determined to see her son walk free.

"In all of this time never, never have I ever had a moment of doubt — not ever," she said.

In the end, she has one message for her son.

"I'm here. I'm pushing. I'm waiting. We're all waiting," Tice said. "Arms are open. We can hardly wait."

There is one other thing that worries Debra Tice: a bill currently making its way through Congress.

House Bill 3202 would, among other things, prohibit federal officials from recognizing the current Syrian government.

Tice believes that bill could hamper efforts to negotiate with Syria for her son's release. The bill passed the House in February and a version of it is currently making its way through the Senate.