“We recently received information from U.S. officials that has led both them and us to conclude that our wonderful husband and father died while in Iranian custody. We don’t know when or how he died, only that it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” they said in a statement.
“It is impossible to describe our pain,” the family said. “Our family will spend the rest of our lives without the most amazing man we have ever known, a new reality that is inconceivable to us. His grandchildren will never meet him. They will only know him through the stories we tell them.”
Levinson traveled to Kish Island, Iran, in early March 2007, according to State Department officials, and was never publicly seen or heard from again. He became the longest-held US citizen in history in 2016.
Iranian officials had denied that Levinson was ever in the country, claiming there was no proof.
President Donald Trump personal’s focus on bringing American hostages home also gave them heart, as did the administration’s move later in November to offer a $25 million reward for information leading to Levinson’s return. December saw the release of Princeton graduate student Xiyue Wang, which seemed to offer the family some hope as it indicated Iran was willing to release Americans.
On Wednesday, despite the family’s statement, Trump said that he doesn’t “accept that he’s dead.”
“It’s not looking great, but I won’t accept that he’s dead,” the President said during a White House briefing.
In their statement, the family noted that they had not received his body for a proper burial and they “don’t even know when, or even if, his body would be returned to us.”
“This is the very definition of cruelty,” they said.
“Those who are responsible for what happened to Bob Levinson, including those in the U.S. government who for many years repeatedly left him behind, will ultimately receive justice for what they have done,” they said.
The family said Wednesday that they “expect American officials, as well as officials around the world, to continue to press Iran to seek Bob’s return, and to ensure those Iranian officials involved are held accountable,” they said.
In their statement, the family thanked Trump “and the members of his Administration – National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, C.I.A. Director Gina Haspel, and FBI Director Christopher Wray – and their staff, who have done all they could to make our family whole again.”
CNN has reached out to the State Department, the National Security Council, and the FBI for comment. The CIA had no comment.
“Our family also wishes to thank Congressman Ted Deutch, Senator Bill Nelson, Senator Marco Rubio and Senator Bob Menendez, and their staff members, who fought for Bob Levinson in every possible way,” they said.
The family said they would hold a memorial service when the threat posed by Covid-19 has subsided.
“Bob Levinson was a truly remarkable individual – the best husband, father, brother, grandfather and friend anyone could ever ask for. He was an American hero – a true patriot, and his compassion and kindness knew no bounds,” the family said. “We will miss his warmth, humor, and wisdom, but most of all, we will miss the deep and unconditional love he had for each one of us. He will never be forgotten – we will make sure of it.”