Concern is mounting about the welfare of Baltimore native and UMBC graduate Matthew VanDyke, who vanished during civil upheaval in Libya a month ago.
“He’s being held somewhere,” says his mother, Sharon, who last spoke with her only child on March 12.
VanDyke, 31, graduated from UMBC with a degree in political science in 2002. In 2004 he received his graduate degree in security studies from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service with a concentration in the Middle East.
A freelance writer who has contributed to Baltimore Examiner and other publications, in 2006 VanDyke began traveling through North Africa by motorcycle with the intention of writing a book. He had also been embedded with the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Along the way, VanDyke made many friends in Libya and other countries in the region. “He was very taken by the friendliness and hospitality of the Libyan people,” his mother says.
When events unfolded in Libya, VanDyke felt compelled to go and provide moral support to his friends.
VanDyke entered Libya from Egypt, at the eastern side of the country. He visited friends in Benghazi, a city on the other side of the country from the capital of Tripoli, where Moammar Gadhafi’s troops clashed with rebel fighters.
“They thought they’d be safe in Benghazi, being so far away from everything that was happening,” Sharon VanDyke says.
Sharon and VanDyke’s girlfriend, Lauren Fischer, were in daily contact with him until March 12, when Gadhafi’s soldiers lay siege to Benghazi and reportedly arrested hundreds of people.
On March 12, VanDyke told Fischer that he was traveling from Benghazi to Brega by truck with members of his friend’s family. Later that day, he spoke briefly to his mother.
“He was in a truck,” Sharon VanDyke recalls. “It was noisy, and he said he couldn’t talk. He told me to call him back the next day. That was the last time I talked with him.”
On the 13th, VanDyke used his phone to send GPS coordinates that correspond to Brega. Then the phone stopped working.
Sharon VanDyke says that she heard though her son’s Libyan friends that he is likely being detained in Brega.
“If he’s in prison, they may offer him better accommodations once they learn he’s an American,” she says. “But knowing his interest in human rights, he won’t leave his friends behind.”
On April 8, the Committee to Protect Journalists expressed concern about VanDyke and more than a dozen other journalists who are missing or in government custody in Libya.