Matthew VanDyke

Matthew VanDyke, 31, traveled to Libya in early March to "witness history," said his mother, Sharon VanDyke. (Family photo)

The mother of a Maryland man missing in Libya since March said Thursday that he is being held in a prison in Tripoli.

Sharon VanDyke said she could not divulge details of how she learned the whereabouts of her son Matthew VanDyke, who was in Libya to work on a book, but she has been told he is in good health.

"I am trying to get more information, but I will do nothing to jeopardize Matthew," she said. "The most important part of this information is that he is in good health. He is tall and thin and didn't have 20 pounds he could lose. This is a real sense of relief."

The retired teacher, who lives in South Baltimore, said she has kept the news to herself for the past few days but announced it Thursday "because so many people are trying to help and are praying for Matthew."

She has been working with several humanitarian agencies, including the American Red Cross, as well as the State Department and several officials.

Matthew VanDyke, 31, went to Libya in early March to "witness history," she said. They last spoke on March 12. The next day, he sent GPS coordinates that placed him near the Libyan city of Brega. Since then, there has been only silence.

In April, the State Department counted him among several Americans who are missing in Libya.

"We have just assumed that he was captured in Brega," said Sharon VanDyke. "We have learned that about 1,200 rebels were taken from there. We knew he was there on the day the town was captured."

Lauren Fischer, Matthew's longtime girlfriend and a Baltimore teacher, called the news a breakthrough.

"Even in prison, I know Matthew is coping," Fischer said. "He is strong-willed and has had to deal with many difficult situations in his travels."

Sharon VanDyke went to Turkey in May to distribute her son's photograph to the Libyan Embassy there.

She said her son loved Libya.

"When he left, he believed ... in a week, [Moammar] Gadhafi would be gone," she said. "He didn't believe that he was going to be in an area where Gadhafi would show up."

An experienced Middle East traveler with a degree in security studies from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, Matthew 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, which is in the midst of a civil war, is to be the book's final chapter, which will highlight the uprisings that are reshaping the Arab world, his family said.

Matthew VanDyke earned a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in 2002. He is listed on the Committee to Protect Journalists website as a freelance journalist. Though he is not a widely published reporter, the New York-based committee identified a piece written by him that appeared in the English-language Kurdish Globe.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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