The parents of an American journalist who has been missing for three months in Syria made a heartfelt appeal for information about his whereabouts Monday and called on any group that may be holding him to release him unharmed.
Marc and Debra Tice said at a news conference here in the Lebanese capital that they have received little news about their son Austin, 31, since he disappeared near the Damascus suburb of Darayya on Aug. 13.
"We really have no idea who is holding our son, and that is our main purpose, to try to make contact with our son," said Debra Tice, who had traveled to Beirut from the family's home in Houston. "To try to make contact and bring him home."
Tice, a former U.S. Marine, had been working as a freelance journalist and contributing articles to The Washington Post, McClatchy Newspapers and other news outlets after crossing the border from Turkey into Syria in May.
In a Facebook post, he defended his decision to take on such a dangerous assignment.
"No, I don't have a death wish — I have a life wish. So I'm living, in a place, at a time and with a people where life means more than anywhere I've ever been — because every single day people here lay down their own for the sake of others," he wrote in an essay posted in late July. "Coming here to Syria is the greatest thing I've ever done, and it's the greatest feeling of my life."
One of the few clues that has emerged about Tice, who is the oldest of seven siblings, is a short video that was posted on YouTube in late September. A handful of men carrying assault rifles and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher are shown leading a blindfolded Tice through a remote, mountainous area.
The men chant as they push Tice up a hillside and he pleads, "Oh, Jesus, oh, Jesus," before the video cuts.
Some experts have speculated that the video is a fake created by the Syrian government to give the impression that he is being held by Islamists. The State Department has said that it believes Tice is being held by the Syrian government.
In the news conference Monday, Marc Tice said the family had reached out to Syrian authorities for information.
"We have been in touch directly and indirectly with people in the Syrian government," Marc Tice said. "They have indicated to us they don't know where Austin is. And we are reaching out to everyone that we can get in touch with to try to get their help in determining where Austin is and what we need to do to bring him home."
Debra Tice said Monday that the holidays will be tough for the family if her son is not released soon.
"With the approaching holiday season, we are even more dismayed by the empty chair at our family table," she said. "We miss Austin's knowing smile, his big laugh and his great storytelling. The energetic joy in our home has been greatly diminished by his absence."