This Christmas, Marc and Debra Tice hung a stocking for their son, Austin. They bought him presents, and a ticket to see the new “Star Wars” movie.
This year marks the fourth Christmas season since Austin Tice, a freelance journalist for McClatchy and The Washington Post, disappeared in Syria. More than 1,226 days later, his parents are prepared for him to walk through the front door of their Houston home.
“Day or night is good for us,” Debra Tice said. “We’re so ready.”
This year, Tice’s family is recording a video message with an audience of one: Austin. It will be translated into Arabic and aimed at news outlets in Syria’s capital, Damascus.
“We’re going to do our damndest to get it to Austin,” Debra Tice said.
Tice, 34, a Marine Corps veteran and Georgetown University law student, was among the first journalists to report from inside Syria on the country’s civil war.
He was part of a team of McClatchy journalists that won a George Polk Award and a McClatchy President’s Award for reporting on the conflict in Syria. But Tice was not present to receive those honors. He sent his last tweet on Aug. 11, 2012 – his birthday. His satellite phone made its last transmission two days later.
It’s not over there. It’s right here. This family has been affected by this conflict.
Debra Tice, mother of missing journalist Austin Tice
A 46-second YouTube video emerged five weeks later showing a blindfolded Tice surrounded by a group of unidentified armed men. No one has claimed responsibility for his disappearance.
“We know he’s somewhere he’d rather not be,” Marc Tice said.
Meanwhile, Marc and Debra Tice continue to work every day, often all day, sometimes for days at a time, to secure his return.
“We are not tired,” Debra Tice said. “We will not give up.”
Worldwide in 2015, 155 journalists were imprisoned, according to Reporters Without Borders, a global nongovernmental organization. Another 65 were killed doing their jobs.
Since the civil war began in Syria four years ago, 83 journalists have been killed there, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Only Iraq has been deadlier, with 166 journalists killed since 2003.
Since 2011, millions of Syrians have fled to other countries in the Middle East and Europe. Millions more are displaced within their own country.
Debra Tice said her family’s experience is a piece of a larger story about families separated by war. For most Americans, the conflict is distant, the problems far away, the reasons abstract. But the Tices experience that world every day.
“It’s not over there. It’s right here,” Debra Tice said. “This family has been affected by this conflict.”
155 Journalists imprisoned worldwide in 2015, according to Reporters Without Borders.
In just the months since the third anniversary of Austin Tice’s disappearance, terrorist attacks have shaken Paris, Beirut and San Bernardino, Calif.
An affiliate of the Islamic State claimed responsibility for crashing a Russian passenger plane in Egypt. Those attacks, which killed hundreds of people, have raised fear and anxiety across the globe.
In spite of the turmoil, the Tices are encouraged by recent diplomatic progress. On Tuesday, the United Nations announced peace talks would be held in Geneva next month. Two previous rounds of talks in Geneva between the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Syrian rebels made little progress, but the Tices think this time could be different.
“Everyone is at the table, all sitting together and coming to the conclusion that something has to be done,” Marc Tice said. “It’s very hopeful.”
The Tices have received thousands of letters, postcards and emails from all over the country and the world, as far away as New Zealand, Norway and the Philippines.
“It’s tremendously uplifting for us,” Marc Tice said. “We’ve been able to see unbelievable grace, kindness, support; all the positive aspects of humanity. It’s a good thing because the darkness can be overwhelming.”
“We’re profoundly aware of how interconnected we are,” Debra Tice said. “It’s an amazing continuation of Austin’s going to Syria in the first place.”
Austin Tice has now missed more than three years of family gatherings.
But his parents said that no amount of time could pass that could cause them to move on. They’ll wait and they’ll work until he returns.
“We’ve never had a moment that we haven’t believed he was coming home,” Debra Tice said. “Never.”