Austin Tice was studying international affairs as an undergraduate at Georgetown University in Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, when the Pentagon was attacked.
“That had a big impact on him,” his father, Marc Tice, told me this week from his home in Houston. “He wanted to serve.”
Austin Tice, an Eagle Scout and oldest of seven children, later spent four years in the Marines, becoming a captain and serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.
That same commitment to action prompted Tice to go to Syria in 2012 as a photographer and reporter. Tice had completed two years of law school at Georgetown. But he thought the world needed to know more about the fighting between Syrian rebels and the government of Bashar Assad.
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“He was very frustrated by how little reporting was coming out of Syria that for the western media was credible,” Marc Tice said. “He always harbored dreams of international journalism. We knew better than to try to talk him out of it.”
Austin Tice crossed into Syria from Turkey and began reporting for several news organizations, including The Washington Post and McClatchy, which owns The News & Observer.
He’d been in Syria for three months when he turned 31 years old in August 2012. Tice tweeted: “Listening to the shells usher in my birthday. Afghanistan, California, DC, Egypt, Turkey, Syria. What an insane year.”
A few days later, he disappeared.
Reporters Without Borders, an advocacy group based in Paris, last week started what it called an unprecedented media campaign to raise awareness about Tice. More than 265 news outlets, including The N&O, are running digital ads about Tice.
The group asks supporters to sign a digital petition urging President Barack Obama to do everything possible to bring Tice home. It also asks supporters to photograph themselves blindfolded and post the image on social media with a message about Tice. When journalists are silenced, the group says, we all are blindfolded.
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The #FreeAustinTice campaign is supported by several media partners, including McClatchy. “The Tice family has worked tirelessly for more than two years for Austin’s release. They’ve learned over that time how much is misunderstood about the public’s understanding of these cases and have decided to try to get that word out,” said Anders Gyllenhaal, McClatchy’s vice president for news and former executive editor of The N&O.
“In all that time, they never seem to lose faith, they’ve never slowed down, they’ve pushed constantly to find answers. The public campaign is the next step in this effort. We all hope that it helps to lead the way to Austin returning home.”
Reporters Without Borders, citing diverse and multiple sources, says Tice is alive and is not held by the Islamic State. No one knows for sure who has Tice. No group has claimed responsibility for his capture.
Reporting from battle is dangerous – especially in Syria. Since the uprising started in 2011, hundreds of journalists and citizen-journalists have been arrested, kidnapped or killed.
Marc Tice wants you to know about that danger. “Most people don’t know what it takes to get the news from a conflict area,” he said.
But mostly he wants his son home. “Few people would put so much on the line for the well-being of strangers half a world away,” Marc and his wife wrote for McClatchy in August in an open letter to Austin on his birthday. “To think that we raised a man like you fills us with pride.”
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