Human Interest Mom 'Begging' to Have Journalist Son 'Home Before His Next Birthday' 10 Years After He Was Kidnapped in Syria Debra and Marc Tice have been fighting to free their son from captivity in Syria for nearly a decade — now, they hope President Biden can finally bring him home By Joanne Fowler Published on July 21, 2022 11:00 AM Share Tweet Pin Email Marc and Debra Tice. Photo: Bilal Hussein/AP/Shutterstock The call came nearly a decade ago on a day in mid August: "Mr. Tice, are you sitting down? Your son appears to be missing in Syria," said a U.S. State Department official. Debra and Marc Tice's son Austin, then 31, had been working in Syria as a freelance journalist in dangerous circumstances, and was about to leave the country. Instead, he was detained at a checkpoint in a suburb of Damascus on Aug. 14, 2012, and is believed to be being held captive by people under the control of the Syrian government. He has not been heard from since. His mom and dad have worked tirelessly for his release every day since then. Debra and Marc Tice at the United States Capitol in 2019. Melissa Lyttle/Redux "At first we thought it was no big deal, he'll pop up tomorrow. But as the weeks went on, we had to come to grips that this was something big," Austin's dad, Marc, 64, a former business manager in the gas and oil industry, tells PEOPLE. The Tices appealed to the U.S. State Department to secure his release but got nowhere: The U.S. Embassy closed in Syria earlier that year. Frustrated, Debra and Marc mounted their own campaign to bring Austin safely home. They enlisted the help of officials from Lebanon and the Czech Republic and also made countless trips to Washington, D.C., to speak to lawmakers and worked tirelessly with the press to keep Austin's case alive. A video of Austin Tice bound and blindfolded appeared on a Syrian Facebook page in 2012. FBI In 2014, Debra even traveled to Syria, where she spent nearly three months distributing flyers and investigating her son's whereabouts, who kidnapped him and why — questions she was ultimately unable to answer. Now, as the 10th anniversary of Austin's abduction approaches, the Tices are appealing to the only person in the world they think can help: President Joe Biden. During a meeting at the White House on May 2, the parents implored Biden to open talks with the Syrian regime. "My son has an incredible will to live and be free," says Debra, 61. "I'm begging to have him home before his next birthday on Aug. 11." Austin Tice in 2009. Courtesy Tice Family Growing up in Texas, Austin Tice seemed destined for public service or leadership from a young age. "He was born big," says Debra. "He was speaking in full sentences by his 1st birthday." For more about Austin Tice and his parents' campaign to win his freedom, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here. The oldest of seven, Austin pored over the family's set of encyclopedias one summer vacation and listened to National Public Radio constantly. At 15, he left high school early and enrolled at the University of Houston, before transferring to Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. Then he shocked his parents by announcing his plans to join the Marine Corps in 2005. "He told us, 'I'm serving my country; there's no question,'" recalls Debra. Rising to the rank of captain in the infantry, Austin did two tours of duty in Iraq followed by another in Afghanistan as a reservist. Austin Tice in 2011. Courtesy Tice Family In 2012, Austin decided to try his hand at photojournalism and secured assignments with the Washington Post and McClatchy newspapers to cover the bloody civil war in Syria. That May, he entered the country without a visa. "He said, 'I am going to take pictures and help people understand,'" says Debra. "He didn't want children dying in the street." For 83 days Austin reported on the escalating violence in the country, while remaining in constant contact with his family through emails, phone calls and Facebook messages. Every Friday he even called his then 3-year-old niece Maia on Skype for a standing singing-and-dancing playdate. "No matter what he was doing, he kept his date," says Debra. A 2019 family photograph showing Debra Tice with Marc, and from left, children Jon, Naomi, Jacob, Meagan, Abby and Simon. Courtesy Tice Family Body of Boy, 13, Who Died from Dehydration in Texas Migrant Truck Tragedy Returned to Guatemala Although Austin has not been heard from since a grainy video of him bound and blind-folded surfaced on the Internet weeks after his disappearance, the Tices are convinced he's still alive. And every year, the family gathers to throw a birthday party in his honor. But as Debra looks back on her unwavering quest to bring him home, she mourns the family events her son has missed and that she has not been able to fully enjoy. "One of my daughters planned her wedding all by herself, and I came back from Damascus just in time to attend. That's not what a mom is supposed to do," she says. "But I have this one kid who really, really needs me. He wants to walk free — and I'm the obvious person to help."