A $1 million reward is being offered for information leading to the whereabouts of Austin Tice (SFS ’02), a U.S. freelance journalist who has been missing in Syria since 2012, the FBI announced April 19.
Tice, 36, disappeared near Damascus while reporting on the Syrian civil war. The FBI released a poster and a statement on its website exhorting people to report any information that could lead to his location, recovery or return.
While U.S. intelligence assessments from the past 18 months suggest Tice has survived his captivity, the FBI said that the timing of the reward is unrelated to any specific piece of information. An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment on how federal authorities settled on the $1 million sum, stating only that the agency takes numerous considerations into account, including “the severity of the danger or injury” and “the risk faced by a source.”
Tice’s mother, Debra Tice, said his family remains confident that he is still alive and has gained renewed hope for his safe return from the reward announcement.
“We are so heartened about the current efforts and the reward because we are hoping that someone will come forward with information that leads to Austin coming safely home, and we look for that every single day,” Debra Tice said in an interview with The Hoya.
The fact that the decision to post a reward resulted from an internal FBI initiative and not a request from the family offers further reassurance, according to Debra Tice.
“That effort came internally — we didn’t push it — so that is even more gratifying to us,” Debra Tice said.
Tice was set to be a double Georgetown alumnus, having been a School of Foreign Service graduate and a Georgetown Law Center student at the time of his disappearance.
The FBI reward raises hopes that the government will be able to secure Tice’s freedom, Georgetown’s Associate Vice President for Federal Relations Scott Fleming said.
“The reward shows that the administration is strongly committed to trying to secure Austin’s release and return home,” Fleming said in an interview with The Hoya. “The fact that the FBI has been willing to come forward with that is another sign that we’re still serious, and it also says to me that there’s great confidence that indeed Austin is still alive.”
Government involvement is essential to raising public awareness about the #FreeAustinTice campaign, which could help bring forward new information, Inès de Miranda (COL ’20), who is set to take on a leadership role in the Georgetown campus’s #FreeAustinTice campaign in the fall, wrote in an email to The Hoya.
“[The reward] generates interests and hopefully will yield results,” de Miranda wrote. “We’ll have to see what unfolds, but it’s a renewed show of commitment that is reassuring and maybe even hopeful.”
Ari Goldstein (COL ’18), who has been a leader of the campus #FreeAustinTice organization, said he was “thrilled” about the FBI’s reward announcement and emphasized the importance of keeping Tice’s case in the public eye.
“Our current action is not to pressure the government to start doing things differently, but rather to really support and encourage the work that’s been going on,” Goldstein said in an interview with The Hoya. “Most importantly, we need to keep Austin’s name in the media so that people outside the government also care about prioritizing his safe return home.”
A weeklong exhibition of Tice’s photographs from Syria was put on display in the Intercultural Center Galleria on Monday. The project was led by Goldstein and hosted by the Georgetown Journalism Program.
The exhibit will help raise Tice’s profile within the Georgetown community, according to SFS Dean Joel Hellman.
“I hope more students passing by the exhibition get the chance to understand his story and keep him in their thoughts and in their advocacy to ensure that he comes home,” Hellman said in an interview with The Hoya. “I think that anything we can do to rally our students, our faculty and the prominence and prestige of Georgetown around this case is important.”
Members of the Georgetown community have a unique responsibility to engage in advocacy for Tice’s return, Goldstein said.
“We have a particularly special role to play, given Austin’s connection to the Georgetown community,” Goldstein said. “It’s on the university to provide institutional support for Austin’s cause, and it’s also on the student body because if we don’t do it, who will?”
Goldstein hopes students will take advantage of the recent publicity surrounding Austin’s disappearance to amplify their voices in his campaign.
“I hope younger students take the attention that’s being generated about Austin in the news right now as further motivation to get involved by continuing to keep Austin’s name in people’s hearts and minds,” Goldstein said. “The moment to speak up is now.”
Emily Kaye (COL ’18), who has also been a leader in the campus #FreeAustinTice campaign, echoed Goldstein’s sentiment and said that Georgetown is well-positioned to contribute to federal advocacy on behalf of Tice.
“I see Georgetown as the main convening body to continue the conversation about Austin with the federal government and to ensure they do everything they can to bring home,” Kaye said in an interview with The Hoya.
Fleming applauded the efforts of Georgetown students who have taken part in Tice’s awareness campaign.
“The important thing to the family is just to keep Austin’s story visible and out front because if somebody like him gets forgotten, then the pressure to continue working goes away,” Fleming said. “Our students are inspired by his story, and I think they are playing a very valuable part in spreading it.”
Amid the ongoing uncertainty surrounding Tice’s case, the university will continue to stand in solidarity with Tice and his embodiment of Georgetown’s values, according to SFS Chief of Staff to the Dean Emily Zenick.
“Austin is a classic SFS student — chasing a dream and making a difference in the world as a journalist,” Zenick wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We couldn’t be prouder to call him a brother of Georgetown.”