After 12 years, Good Shepherd parishioner still prays, works for father’s release from captivity
COLLEYVILLE — The last time Stephanie Levinson Curry spoke to her dad, she was a new mother caring for a four-month-old baby who wouldn’t sleep at night. Tired and discouraged, the 28-year-old reached out to her parents, Christine and Bob Levinson, for advice.
“My dad answered the phone,” Curry said, remembering the February 28, 2007, conversation. “In a comforting way he told me to listen to my mother who had raised seven children. He was always encouraging and supportive.”
Nine days later, on March 9, 2007, his 59th birthday, the ex-FBI agent was kidnapped on Kish Island in Iran during what his family believed was a business trip. Twelve years later, his whereabouts are still unknown, making him the longest-held hostage in U.S. history.
Following a first-time admission from Iran that an “open case” on Levinson exists in its court system, the U.S. State Department recently added $20 million to an existing $5 million reward offered by the FBI for information leading to the location, recovery, and return of the missing husband and father.
Curry, a cradle Catholic who belongs to Good Shepherd Parish in Colleyville, hopes renewed efforts by the Trump administration to free all Americans wrongfully detained in Iran will bring her father home.
“We miss him terribly,” uttered the daughter-turned-advocate who handles incoming emails and social media posts about her dad’s case. “He now has nine grandchildren but only met one. It’s difficult knowing he’s missing out on time with his children and grandbabies.”
Faith sustains the close-knit family who grew up in south Florida with a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. The decision to raise their brood Catholic was made by both parents.
“Growing up, we all received the sacraments and went to religious education,” Curry pointed out. “My father always supported that strong foundation of faith. He went to our Confirmations and first Communions.”
As an adult, the married mother of Ryan, 13, and Grace, 11, continues to rely on her Catholic faith to cope with the ongoing stress and uncertainty generated by her father’s disappearance. She volunteers at her parish’s Samuel Ministry — a monthly program for special needs families. Her son is a participant.
There have been moments of anger and despair, Curry admitted.
“But I firmly believe God has a plan,” she added quickly. “I have to think [my dad’s] faith and belief in God is keeping him strong so he will come home to us.”
Except for a video received in November 2010 and photos in April 2011, the Levinson family has received no information about the man they consider “a hero to thousands.” In December 2007, Christine Levinson and son, Dan, traveled to Iran to learn more about her husband’s disappearance and to meet with representatives of countries sympathetic to the family’s plight. Among them was the papal representative in Iran.
“He was kind and wanted to help,” Curry said, recalling information gleaned from the trip. “It was meaningful to us coming right before the holiday season in 2007.”
Since then, the North Texas resident and her siblings have endured 12 Christmases and countless other celebrations without their father. Her two youngest brothers were just 13 and 16 years old when he checked out of an Iranian hotel and never was seen in public again. She credits her Irish-American mother for holding the family together.
A stay-at-home mom who took care of everyone else’s needs, Christine Levinson was suddenly thrust into the national and international limelight doing on-air interviews asking for her husband’s release.
“My mother is a rock,” Curry said proudly. “It [the kidnapping] turned our world upside down but she’s strong. Her resolve keeps us going.”
For 12 years, the family has maintained the website HelpBobLevinson.com to keep their father’s name in the news and provide a conduit for people who may know something about the case. Early on, informants claimed to have seen Levinson but none of those tips panned out.
“You have your hopes up high that someone saw him in prison but it’s never true,” Curry explained. “Within the first exchange or two, people are asking for money.”
The family is optimistic that increasing the reward money to $25 million will produce more viable leads.
Forty years ago, Iranian militants held American diplomats and embassy workers hostage for 444 days before releasing them. Bob Levinson’s captivity is 10 times longer.
“That’s staggering,” his daughter said pointedly. “People should be outraged. He’s a person who has had no basic human rights for 12½ years. Even the worst prisoners have family visits and a lawyer. How long can a person keep going even if his faith is strong?”
Curry wants Americans to pray not only for her 71-year-old father’s well-being, but also that his captors develop a sense of mercy and compassion that leads to his release.
Until that happens, she will continue to plead his case before the public.
“My dad is just an absolutely amazing person who radiates so much love,” Curry continued. “At the end of the day, I’m just a daughter trying to get her father home.”