Roxana Saberi: Tell me about your son Austin. He’s the oldest of your seven children. What kind of guy is he?
Marc Tice: He’s a fabulous guy. He’s got a huge outgoing personality. We hear regularly from friends of his, people that we haven’t met. He was 31 when he went to Syria.
I could tell from some of his writing, when he was reporting in Syria in 2012, and also some of the pictures he took, that he has this sense of empathy for other people. Some of the pictures include, for example, children who were being affected by the war. How concerned were you when he went there at that time?
Debra Tice: Of course we were concerned. He did everything he could to ease our minds, by staying in touch. Every day we would see either a tweet or a Facebook. Or he would email us directly. And so he was very careful about keeping us from being more concerned than needed, I would say.
Marc Tice: Well — and we also know because he told us — he prepared as well as he could. He started getting in touch with other journalists that had worked in conflict zones. He had good training and background in emergency first aid and that sort of thing. So he tried to put our minds at rest, I think, with the preparation that he did. But there wasn’t really any chance of us changing his mind.
Debra Tice: No, that was never an option.
Debra, you mentioned you would follow his tweets. And his last tweet was on Aug. 11, 2012.
Debra Tice: Right, his birthday.
It says: “Spent the day at an FSA [Free Syrian Army] pool party with music by @taylorswift13. They even brought me whiskey. Hands down, best birthday ever.” What’s the last contact that you had with Austin?
Debra Tice: Well, for me, my last contact with him was on his birthday. I was getting ready to go canoeing in the Boundary Waters [on the Minnesota-Ontario border, which is absolutely no electricity, no phones or anything. And he and I had made that same trip 17 years prior. So, we were just emailing back and forth, you know, our amazing shared memories of that experience that we had together.
Marc Tice: My last communication with him was on the 13th, which is the last day that anyone heard directly from him. And a number of people did, a number of his friends did. That was kind of his routine. I guess he’d set aside a block of time, when he could, and contact friends and family. So we just [had a] really mundane Gchat exchange. “Hey, how are things going?” He had told us that he was planning on leaving the suburb of Damascus, where he was at that time. I think there was some communication about, “I may be out of touch for a little bit of time, as I’m traveling.” He was planning on leaving and going to Lebanon. So that was the last that I communicated with him.
So that was Aug. 13 of 2012. And about a month and a half later, after he disappeared, a video surfaced online, showing him blindfolded. He was being shoved around by what appeared to be fighters, who knows from where? And he’s saying, “Oh, Jesus. Oh, Jesus.” What was your reaction when you saw that video?
Marc Tice: It was hard to watch. It was hard to watch, just because of the content and the scene. And honestly, it was hard for me. Someone alerted me to the fact that it was there. And this was late at night, so I watched it. And it was very hard for me to share that with Debbie because I knew it would be upsetting to her as well.
Debra Tice: You hadn’t actually made that decision yet. And you know how you’re the mom and just wake up when something’s not as it should be? So I got out of bed and looked around. And Marc was in the living room looking very distraught. “What is it?” And he can’t even speak to me. He doesn’t even respond to me. He’s just looking at me like he just doesn’t even want to tell me. And then he finally does, and that’s pretty much all I remember from that day — is just that moment that he told me about it.
Marc Tice: It wasn’t long before we took what we think is the real message of that video, which is the title of the video, “Austin Tice Is Alive.”
Debra Tice: That’s the only message of the video.
Marc Tice: Everything else about the video prompts more questions than gives answers. And so there’s no point in speculating about who it was. They didn’t identify themselves.
Debra Tice: And still haven’t.
Marc Tice: And still haven’t. Didn’t give us any follow up. Didn’t give us any means to contact anyone, anything like that. So rather than speculate about what does it mean, we take the meaning that is stated, Austin Tice is alive.
Some observers say that the video may have been staged. That it seemed like the production was very amateurish. The camera movements were shaky. Even those fighters seemed like they were acting. What is your thought about that?
Marc Tice: Well, like I say, I mean, you can read anything into it that you want to, I guess, based on your perspective or your knowledge of these things. That’s a rabbit hole for us.
Debra Tice: The most important thing, it’s absolutely Austin in the video. And he is alive. And we are working and praying and urging our government to do everything to get him home. Find him and get him home.
Marc Tice: We’ve been in touch directly and indirectly with Syrian government officials. We’ve asked them to do everything they can to find Austin, to return him to us safely. They’ve said they would do that. So we hold them to that commitment.
The video was released about two and a half years ago. Is that the last sign or the last images you’ve seen of him?
Debra Tice: Yes.
What leads you to believe that Austin is still alive?
Debra Tice: We get messages from credible sources that we can never trace back to their origin. That Austin is alive. That he’s safe. That we need to be patient. You know, he is coming home. It’s just a matter of what is that process going to look like? So what we want now is for whoever is holding Austin to let us know what is the process that we need to engage to get him home.
So nobody has said, “We want a ransom” or “We want a prisoner swap” or “we want X or Y.”
Marc Tice: No one has approached us in any way, frankly. So there’s been no claim or responsibility and no request for any kind of negotiation or any process like that. But in addition to what the United States government has and is doing, in terms of diplomatically and trying to find out where he is and who holds him, we’ve been in contact with a number of people, and pretty much without exception, everyone that talks to us and that we’ve talked to tells us they believe he’s alive. And they believe that he’ll ultimately come home. We just want to start the process. We just want that to be tomorrow.
Debra Tice: Yesterday. Certainly not in the situation that Austin’s in, but metaphorically, you know, our whole family is captive. And our lives are suspended.
Marc Tice: I mean, that’s true. But it brings up another point, that we’ve traveled to the region a couple of times. We’ve developed a lot of friendships and contacts. And we’ve also gotten a sense of exactly what it’s like there because of this conflict. And it’s humbling to us to see the millions of refugees. Yes, our whole family is also being held hostage. But there are untold families that are and have experienced things far, far worse. And so we’re cognizant of that. We want all captives released. We want all the suffering to stop.