Days after four journalists were released from captivity in Libya, a retired schoolteacher in South Baltimore waits anxiously for any word about her son, who went missing in the war-torn country in March.
Sharon VanDyke and other family members on Monday enlisted the help of Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) to raise the profile of 31-year-old Matthew VanDyke’s case and demand that Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi allow him to return home.
“This is a major priority when you have an American being held captive, especially based on the situation occurring in Libya,” Ruppersberger said during a news conference in the VanDykes’ home. “The No. 1 priority is to bring him home safely.”
Matthew VanDyke traveled to Libya in early March to “witness history,” according to his mother. She last spoke to him March 12. The next day, he sent GPS tracking coordinates that placed him near the Libyan city of Brega.
Since then, there has been only silence. Sharon VanDyke traveled to Turkey two weeks ago to give his photograph to the Libyan Embassy there. And her dining room table was covered Monday with binders full of documents detailing her efforts to locate him.
“He truly loved the country,” VanDyke said Monday. “When he left, he believed . . . in a week, Gaddafi would be gone.
“He didn’t believe that he was going to be in an area where Gaddafi would show up,” she said.
VanDyke’s status is unclear. There has been no confirmation that he is being held by Gaddafi’s forces. In April, the U.S. State Department counted him among several Americans who are missing in the country.
The department did not respond Monday to requests for information about VanDyke.
Last month, a friend of VanDyke’s in Libya told Sharon VanDyke that he believed her son and several friends were captured by Gaddafi forces near Brega.
An experienced Middle East traveler with a degree in security studies from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, VanDyke has been working on a book about his travels, his family said. He returned in December from a six-month motorcycle tour through Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.
His trip to Libya, his family said, was to be the final chapter of the book, intended to highlight the uprisings that are reshaping the Arab world.
Sharon VanDyke said her son did not go to Libya to fight with opposition forces.
“Strange as it might sound, this is not unusual for him to pick up and go to Libya,” said George W. Della Jr., a former Democratic state senator from Baltimore who attended the news conference. “He wanted to fully understand the mindset of the people in the Middle East.”