PINE CITY, Minn. - Cindy Hickey was sitting in her home office last summer, preparing a receipt for a client of her animal physical therapy business when the phone rang. She picked up, then nearly hung up, thinking it was a sales call.
"Then I heard 'Baghdad' and 'embassy' and that got my attention," Hickey said. "And she told me, 'Your son Shane is believed to have been taken by Iranian authorities. That's all the information we have, we will call you as soon as we have more information.' My adrenaline peaked. My heart sank. And I immediately went into a mode of, what are we going to do to take care of this immediately?"
A year later, Hickey and the other mothers of three Americans detained in Iran since July 31, 2009, are still in that mode. They have put their own careers on hold and turned to what's become a full-time job for them: attempting to secure their children's release from Tehran's Evin Prison in the face of espionage accusations by the Iranian government.
The three women have done hundreds of media interviews. Written untold pages of letters. Worked diplomatic channels. Organized dozens of rallies and vigils. Researched the intricacies of Iranian law and international human rights treaties. Monitored Iranian news sources. And kept in constant contact with each other and other members of their families.
"The frustration you feel accumulates. The powerlessness, all that stuff accumulates," Shourd's mother, Nora, said.
Sarah Shourd, Bauer and Fattal met as students at the University of California at Berkeley. Last summer, Bauer, 28, a freelance journalist, and Shourd, 31, an English teacher, were living in Damascus, Syria. Bauer had just finished a magazine assignment, and Shourd was planning to learn Arabic.
Fattal, 28, had been overseas as a teaching assistant with the International Honors Program since January 2009. During his visit to Damascus, the three decided to take a hiking trip in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, according to their families.
That's where they were seized by Iranian authorities, who accuse them of illegally crossing their border. Their families believe they may have been captured on the Iraqi side of the border, and strongly deny Tehran's espionage accusations.
Since they were allowed a brief visit with their children in Tehran in May, there's been no further word. Iranian officials haven't let the families' lawyer see their children, and Swiss diplomats who were allowed to visit them several times haven't been let back in.
Optimism has dimmed, too, as the months have dragged on, especially as the prospects for improved Washington-Tehran relations have deteriorated. The United States broke off ties with Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and Switzerland handles U.S. interests in Iran.
Family members on Friday were joined by about 75 supporters outside the Iranian mission to the United Nations in Manhattan. They held mock prison bars and pitched a tent with a sign that read: "Free the hikers. 365 days." In a statement, President Barack Obama said Friday he spoke with the mothers earlier this week and acknowledged the families' "suffering and advocacy." "I call on the Iranian government to immediately release Sarah, Shane and Josh," Obama said.