Md. congressman spotlights journalist missing

AP News
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Posted: May 23, 2011 6:51 PM
Md. congressman spotlights journalist missing

Maryland Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger called attention Monday to the case of a freelance journalist from Baltimore who has been missing in Libya since March, saying all means necessary must be used to bring the reporter home.

Matthew VanDyke, 31, went to Libya to witness the uprising against Moammar Gadhafi and write about it. He had been in the country for about a week when he disappeared around March 13.

U.S. officials have been trying to get information about VanDyke through governments that still have relationships with Libya and through the opposition, said Ruppersberger, a Democrat.

"We have been trying to use different resources and information but that hasn't worked. So now we're going public," Ruppersberger said at a news conference at VanDyke's mother's home in south Baltimore. "I'm putting a resolution on the floor just to call attention because nothing else is working at this time."

The resolution calls on Gadhafi to release any detained U.S. citizens and for the opposition to search and secure the release of any detained Americans. It also encourages the State Department to help find any missing Americans.

VanDyke's mother, Sharon, traveled to Turkey two weeks ago and took photos of her son to the Libyan embassy and any other official she thought might help.

"I wanted them to know he wasn't just a name," she said. "He's a person with a mother looking for him."

The retired principal keeps a bag packed, ready to go anywhere if it could help bring her son home.

VanDyke traveled throughout the Middle East, including Iraq and Afghanistan, from 2007 to 2009. He visited Libya for six weeks in 2008 and had kept in touch with friends there, Sharon VanDyke said. He planned to be at home for a year working on a book on his travels, but he found himself distracted by the events in the Middle East, she said.

She believes he decided to travel to Benghazi after receiving an email from a friend that asked VanDyke to tell all his friends and family in the U.S. about him if he died.

VanDyke called home March 12, saying he would take a day trip to the eastern Libyan oil town of Brega to take pictures. His mother received a message with GPS coordinates from Brega the next day, but that was the last contact she had with him.

"He didn't ever believe that he was going to be in an area where Gadhafi was going to show up," Sharon VanDyke said. But she and the congressman believe he was in Brega when Gadhafi's forces arrived there, though it's not clear whether VanDyke was detained. He might be safer if he is, Ruppersberger said.

"What I know about Gadhafi and what I know from intelligence briefings is that Gadhafi's smart and I don't believe that Gadhafi is going to want to hurt an American," he said. "I think he will try to leverage the fact that he has certain Americans, but I don't think he's going to want to hurt Americans."

Last week, the Libyan government released four foreign journalists and a fifth reached freedom in Qatar after disappearing while on assignment in Syria, the latest reporters to be freed after being swept up while covering unrest in the Middle East.

VanDyke had written a draft of his book chronicling his travels and thought a chapter on the historic changes taking place in the Middle East would be the perfect epilogue, according to VanDyke's girlfriend, Lauren Fischer, 28. They talked about the dangers he might face, but hoped they wouldn't become a reality, she said.

"He just couldn't could sit here and watch it on CNN," Fischer said.