It has been over 1,000 days that Houston native Austin Tice has been held in captivity for being a journalist.
That's what four Houston-area billboards, paid for by his parents and donations, seek to remind not just passers-by, but the U.S. government. Tice disappeared in Syria in August 2012. A YouTube video posted in September shows Tice being led through a hillside by armed gunmen, as Texas Monthly reported in a recent feature story. His parents have maintained that he is alive, apparently receiving information from credible government sources in the Middle East. And now they're turning up the pressure on government officials, wishing they would work as hard as they have to find him.
Tice had just left the military in Afghanistan to become a war photographer in the Middle East. He had gone to Egypt, Turkey, and had planned to make his way to Damascus, the capital of Syria. The conflict there was not as heightened and violent as it is now, but reports of kidnapped journalists had already driven many away from the country. Instead, Tice's decision to go after photojournalism in these Middle Eastern war zones won him an prestigious war reporting award six months after his disappearance.
In the past three years, Debra and Marc Tice have kept an ongoing campaign to keep alive any efforts to find their son, including running full-page ads in newspapers as large as The New York Times and The Washington Post and launching a social media campaign, called #FreeAustinTice. They have even traveled to the Middle East themselves to look for him.
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In front of one of the billboards with her son's face next to the 1,000-day captivity reminder—this one along U.S. 59 in Humble—Debra Tice said, "We call on the United States government and the Syrian government to do all they can, to use all their resources, to find Austin and return him safely home."