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Missing American U. Alumna Released From Syria

This story was written by Rebecca Kern, The Eagle

Two American journalists, including an American University alumna, were released into U.S. custody last Thursday after being detained in a Syrian prison for crossing border from Lebanon aided by smugglers.

Holli Chmela, 27, a 2003 AU graduate and former Eagle staffer, and Taylor Luck, 23, claimed they were "kidnapped" by a taxi driver in Lebanon. Both are journalists for the Jordan Times, an English newspaper in Amman, Jordan, according to The Washington Post.

John Watson, a professor in the School of Communication who had taught Chmela in several classes, said he last heard from her via e-mail Sept. 26. Watson said a former student and family friend of Chmela contacted him Oct. 7 and said that Chmela was missing in Lebanon.

"My heart just dropped to the floor," he said. "I think going missing in Lebanon is one of the worst possible things."

He said he helped contact people to get in touch with the U.S. Embassy in Syria.

"Those few days were quite stressful and filled with panicked e-mails and telephone calls to everyone I could imagine might be of some help," Watson said.

He said he remembers Chmela as an "excellent student" who was "destined to be a journalist."

"She had a good number of articles published in the New York Times while she was working in its D.C. bureau," Watson said. "We have stayed in touch. She would stop by from time to time, but most often she would send an e-mail."

Chmela and Luck had planned a vacation to Lebanon on Sept. 29 and had last been heard from on Oct. 1, when they checked out of a hotel in Beirut to visit Tripoli, Lebanon. They were going to cross by land into Syria before returning to Jordan, according to USA Today.

Luck claimed their taxi driver was supposed to take them through an official entry into Syria so they could get entry visas to Syria, according to the Post.

Instead, the driver locked the doors, drove off the main road and demanded their money. Just then, a military car arrived and removed Chmela and Luck from the car and into their vehicle, the Post reported.

The two stayed in a prison in Homs, Syria, from Oct. 1 to Oct. 8, according to the Jordan Times.

Chmela and Luck were released to a Damascus, Syria, prison on Oct. 8. They were then released to the U.S. Embassy in Damascus on Oct. 9 to return to Jordan, according to The New York Times.

Watson said he heard from this former student before Chmela went missing that she had planned to return to the District on Oct. 30 in time to celebrate Halloween.

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