Paul Whelan’s parents grew more and more anxious amid the silence. That same trigger set off alarms for Fred and Cindy Warmbier. And for Marc and Deborah Tice, who have heard nothing from their son for more than six years.
Their nightmarish stories share the same heart-wrenching core: an American gone missing in a foreign country, their families left feeling helpless and filled with dread.
Xiyue Wang, a graduate student in history at Princeton University, has spent three years in an Iranian jail cell, where he recently marked his 38th birthday. His wife, Hua Qu, fears he’ll mark his 39th there, too, and that their 5-year-old son will forget his father.
Austin Tice, an Eagle Scout and former U.S. Marine from Texas, vanished in Syria in 2012. He was working as a freelance journalist ahead of his final year at Georgetown Law School. Tice, 37, has not been heard from since. A video released a month after he disappeared shows him blindfolded and trembling as he’s led up a hillside by armed men. “Oh, Jesus,” Tice says in the video. “Oh, Jesus,” he repeats.
The Warmbiers hoped there would be a secret U.S. government mission to rescue their son Otto from North Korea. In 2016, he was sentenced to 15 years hard labor. His alleged crime? Tearing down a propaganda poster in his hotel. Warmbier, 21, was due to stay in North Korea for a five-day study tour. He was returned home to his parents in Cincinnati after a year and a half, with a massive brain injury that left him blind, deaf and unable to move on his own. The University of Virginia student died a few days later.