HOUSTON, TEXAS - The parents of an American journalist taken hostage in Syria in 2012 say their hope that their son will come home safely has never wavered.
That faith recently got a boost from U.S. officials, who told the family they have high confidence Austin Tice is alive.
“On a certain level, people expect the parents, the family to be optimistic and to feel good about a positive outcome,” Tice's father, Marc Tice, told The Associated Press during an interview at his Houston home Thursday. “Getting that word from official sources just reinforces that, yes, this is not wasted effort. This is real effort that needs to continue.”
U.S. Department of State spokesman Frankie Sturm declined to comment about how officials determined Tice, who was kidnapped in August 2012 near Damascus while covering the civil war, remains alive in captivity.
Tice is a former Marine who has reported for The Washington Post, McClatchy Newspapers, CBS and other outlets, and disappeared shortly after his 31st birthday. A month after his kidnapping, a video was released showing a blindfolded Tice being held by armed men and saying “Oh, Jesus.” He has not been heard from since.
The circumstances surrounding his disappearance are still a mystery, it's not clear what entity is holding him and no ransom demand has ever been made. But the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders has said that it doesn't believe Tice is being held by the Islamic State group.
Tice's parents got the update on his status late last year from James O'Brien, President Barack Obama's Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs. That position was created in 2015 following criticism over how the federal government handled efforts to free Americans taken hostage abroad.
In November, State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters the U.S. will continue to work with the Czech government, which serves as protecting power for U.S. interests in Syria, to gather information about Tice.
“And we're obviously going to continue publicly and privately to urge all sides to ensure the safety of journalists that are operating in Syria, and obviously to call on Austin's captors to release him now and return him safely to his loved ones, which is where he belongs,” Kirby said.
Marc Tice, 59, said it remains critical that his son's captors “reach out to us and let us know what can be done to complete the solution to bring our son home.”
Debra Tice, 55, said she's believes the recent U.S. assessment will help ensure that the incoming administration of President-Elect Donald Trump continues efforts to bring her son home safely.
“We are here. We are his parents. We will find you and we will remind you that this is happening and now this is on your plate,” she said.
A spokesperson for the incoming Trump administration did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, whom Tice's parents have credited with helping their efforts, said last month on the Senate floor that the newest assessment should remind everyone that “we cannot give up until we bring Austin Tice home.”
Tice's parents said as they work to keep their son's disappearance in the public eye and on the political radar, they also want ensure that their son is thought of as a person who's funny and tender-hearted — not an abstract idea.
“I do think as time goes on, it's OK for people who have not met Austin to relate to him as one of the most extreme expressions of the perils that journalists face and that they rally around that as well as rally around him as our son, brother and uncle and student and journalist,” she said. “I think the most important thing is to want him to be safely home.”