MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College student and Ripton native Pathik “Tik” Root has been detained in Syria by the authorities there since March 18, his father, Tom, told the Independent on Friday.
Tom Root said that in a Wednesday night meeting with the U.S. consul, Syrian authorities confirmed that they were “almost certain” that Tik Root was in their custody.
Root told the Associated Press earlier last week that he believed his son, who is studying Arabic in Syria, may have gone out to observe the protests that were happening and been picked up by the police at that time.
In the meeting with Syrian authorities last Wednesday night, Root said the Syrian consul said if they had detained any Americans, it was due to “a misunderstanding.”
But Tik Root was not among a number of detainees that Syrian police released on Friday morning, and authorities have been unable to get any information on where Root is being held or about his physical condition.
“It makes us extremely nervous,” Tom Root said.
Tom Root, a neuroscience professor at Middlebury College, said that he and his wife, Andrea Lloyd, are now working to get the story out by any means they can.
“We’re enlisting as much support from the college and the media as we can,” he said. “We need to show the Syrian government that this is not going to go away.”
Right now, the U.S. State Department, all three members of Vermont’s congressional delegation, the U.S. embassy in Damascus and the college administration are all working to put pressure on the government in order to get Tik Root out of the country.
The 21-year-old was one of the students evacuated from Middlebury College’s study abroad program in Egypt in late January in the face of political unrest there. Shortly after his arrival in Vermont, Root told the Addison Independent that he was already trying to get back to the Middle East.
“I’m looking to go back to Damascus, (Syria),” he said at that time.
At the same time, Root was sharing his photographs and video footage of protests in Egypt with as many outlets as he could, and began compiling information and reports from Egyptians still in the country, e-mailing updates out to a list that he’d compiled and starting a blog to catalog reports.
In the end, Tik Root did make it to Syria earlier this month, enrolling at the University of Damascus. But in recent days, that country has seen an unexpected escalation in anti-government protests. After a week of steady protests and seven casualties, Reuters reports that security forces on Wednesday opened fire on protesters in the south of the country, leaving at least 37 dead.
Tik Root has not been heard from since March 18, when he reportedly attended a protest.
The blog he started following his evacuation from Egypt — mideastreports.wordpress.com — have now been set to private, and two public Google Documents he’d maintained containing the stories of people witnessing the turmoil have been stripped of content.
Root last wrote on his Facebook page on March 16, but since the story broke last Thursday, his page has been flooded with hopeful messages from friends. Friends have also started a Facebook group for those interested in following the case.
According to a statement released by Middlebury College on Thursday, “Everyone at the college is anxious to hear that Tik is safe, and we look forward to receiving word when his family hears more about his status.”
And his parents are working around the clock to get information on Tik’s status and to disperse it to media outlets.
“We’re on edge, but we’re dealing with it,” said Tom Root on Friday.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at firstname.lastname@example.org.