Updated 4/1/11, 4:38 p.m.
MIDDLEBURY — Tik Root, the Middlebury College student and Ripton native imprisoned in Syria after a protest in Damascus on March 18, was released from Syrian custody on Friday.
“It is a tremendous relief,” wrote Tom Root, Tik’s father, in an email to the Independent on Friday afternoon.
At about 10 a.m. Friday morning, Andrea Lloyd, Tik Root’s stepmother, posted a message to the more than 1,500 members of the “Tik Root is missing” Facebook group to announce that Root was in a car with consulate officials, headed to the U.S. Embassy in Syria.
“We have spoken with him briefly, and he sounds well,” Lloyd wrote.
At press time, the reasons for his release were not clear, but CNN reported on Friday that Syrian officials had also released Muhammad Radwan, an Egyptian-American man who was also detained on March 18 on charges of suspected espionage.
Meanwhile, thousands of Syrian people took to the streets on Friday in a mass protest that activists dubbed the “Day of Martyrs,” according to the Associated Press. The event was the latest in two weeks of protests and clashes against the Syrian government that have, according to the latest reports, left nearly 70 dead.
Root’s release followed an outpouring of support from family and friends. On Thursday, Root’s parents urged supporters to call their representatives to advocate for Root’s case.
One Middlebury College classmate of Root’s reported on Facebook that he had made an announcement to two New York City subway cars asking people to call their congressional representatives.
Also on Thursday, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, spoke on the Senate floor about Root, calling him a “young, curious American student” who, naturally, was interested in watching and documenting the Damascus protests in photographs.
“He was doing nothing wrong and at most he was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Leahy.
On Friday, following the announcement that Root had been freed, Leahy thanked U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, Syrian Ambassador to the U.S. Imad Moustapha, and “the many State Department officials who worked around the clock for Tik Root’s release.”
And he acknowledged the hard work of the network of friends and Middlebury College students, as well as “Tom and Andi’s devotion to their son, in both words and deeds, which has deeply touched every Vermonter who has stood with them through their ordeal.”
All three members of Vermont’s congressional delegation were active in advocating for Root’s release during the two weeks of his imprisonment, and were in communication with U.S. Embassy officials in Syria.
“We’re all breathing a sigh of relief knowing that Tik Root is safe and in the hands of U.S. officials in Syria,” said a statement released by Rep. Peter Welch shortly after the news on Root’s release broke on Friday morning.
“This has been an incredibly trying time for Tik and his family and I wish them all the best as he returns home,” Welch added.
Tom Root said on Friday afternoon that the family would not yet be speaking to the media extensively.
“We are focusing our attention for now on getting Tik back to the states, and then assessing what he needs,” he said.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at email@example.com.