MIDDLEBURY — After a tense search, the family of Middlebury College student and Ripton native Pathik “Tik” Root has ascertained that he is “safe and well,” in the custody of Syrian authorities.
The search for Tik Root has been on since shortly after March 18, when, according to his father, Tom, he likely went out to observe the protests that were happening in Damascus, where he was studying Arabic, and was picked up by the police.
Last Friday, Tom Root said that Syrian authorities had announced they were “almost certain” that Tik Root was in their custody. On Saturday, Tom Root issued a statement saying that his son had been located, and that although he was still in the custody of the Syrian authorities, reports from the Syrian embassy, officials in Damascus and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) said that he was safe and well.
Tom Root said that last Wednesday night, when Tik Root’s status was still uncertain, the Syrian consul reported that if they had detained any Americans, it was due to “a misunderstanding.”
But on Friday morning, Tik Root was not among a number of detainees that Syrian police released, and U.S. authorities remained unable to get any information on where Root was being held or about his physical condition.
“It makes us extremely nervous,” Tom Root said at the time.
Tom Root, a neuroscience professor at Middlebury College, said that he and his wife, Andrea Lloyd, a Middlebury biology professor, are working to get the story out by any means they can.
The family enlisted the help of the U.S. State Department, all three members of Vermont’s congressional delegation, the U.S. embassy in Damascus and the college administration to communicate with the government in order to get Tik Root out of the country.
The story also made it to national media outlets, with report in the Huffington Post, the Boston Globeand The New York Timesover the past week. A Facebook group started by Middlebury College students with the purpose of aggregating information and showing support for Tik Root now has 1,457 members.
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 return to Vermont then, Root told the Addison Independentthat 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.
Also 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. The New York Times reports that the Syrian government has blamed foreigners for igniting some of the protests over the past week, and Reuters reported that security forces on Wednesday opened fire on protesters in the south of the country, leaving at least 37 dead.
The blog Tik Root started following his evacuation from Egypt — mideastreports.wordpress.com — has 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. The students with whom he ran the blog reported to MiddBlog, Middlebury College’s alternative news blog, that they had removed the information from the public view in order to protect Tik Root.
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.
By Friday, his parents were 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,” Tom Root said then.
Though Tik Root was still in the custody of Syrian authorities as of Sunday evening, the Syrian government is working with U.S. authorities on the case.
In a Saturday update released to Middlebury College, Tom Root wrote, “We very much appreciate the efforts of Ambassador Imad Moustapha and Senator Leahy in continuing to work to bring this complex situation to a resolution.
“Just as soon as we have more concrete information to share, I will certainly let you know. But in the meantime please know how much we value everyone’s good wishes and hopes.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at email@example.com.