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 enlisted the help of Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger on Monday to raise the profile of 31-year-old Matthew VanDyke's case — and demand that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi 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 held in the VanDyke home. "The No. 1 priority is to bring him home safely."
Matthew VanDyke travelled to Libya in early March to "witness history," according to Sharon VanDyke. She last spoke to him March 12. On the following 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 distribute his photograph to the Libyan embassy there. And her dining room table is covered in 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, Gadhafi would be gone. He didn't believe that he was going to be in an area where Gadhafi would show up."
VanDyke's status remains unclear. There has been no confirmation that he is being held by Gadhafi 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 was captured by Gadhafi forces along with several of his friends near Brega.
Ruppersberger said he was asked to help because of his position as the top-ranking Democrat on the House Select Intelligence Committee. The Baltimore County Democrat, who does not represent VanDyke's area in Congress, said he has called the White House and the State Department about the case. He also said he will introduce a resolution about him on the House floor.
"We have been trying to use different resources … but that hasn't worked," Ruppersberger said. The U.S. government has also tried to reach out to opposition forces in Libya that might have information about VanDyke, he said.
"So now we're going public."
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, is to be the book's final chapter, which will highlight the uprisings that are reshaping the Arab world.
VanDyke 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 VanDyke that appeared in the English-language Kurdish Globe.
Libya is in the midst of a civil war spurred by protests against the Gadhafi regime. Opposition groups have been aided by U.S. bombings; a NATO-led coalition continues to assist rebel leaders.
Sharon VanDyke said her son did not travel to Libya to fight with opposition forces.
VanDyke's family was cheered by the release of four journalists this month who were detained for six weeks in Libya. In March, the Gadhafi government also released journalists working for The New York Times.
VanDyke graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in 2002 with a bachelor's degree in political science.
"Strange as it might sound, this is not unusual for him to pick up and go to Libya," said former state Sen. George W. Della Jr., a Baltimore Democrat who attended the news conference. "He wanted to fully understand the mind-set of the people in the Middle East."