My Sister, Nicole Vienneau, Has Gone Missing in Syria|
(*The blog is no longer being updated regularly due to the civil war in Syria. Should the situation change or any breakthroughs be achieved, I will post it here*)
My sister, Jacqueline "Nicole" Vienneau, a Canadian tourist, disappeared in Syria on Saturday, March 31st, 2007 at the age of 32. She was in her fifth month of a six-month solo adventure through West Africa and the Middle East. She was last seen by the desk clerk at 8:30 in the morning as she left the Cairo Hotel in Hama, two hours north of Damascus.
She definitely intended to return to the hotel as her backpack was left in her room along with the memory cards from her camera, full of photos. She also left her journals that include an entry made the night before she disappeared. Canadian police retrieved her Hotmail account email records indicating she attempted to login around 8:30 Friday night but was unable to (Syrian Internet connections are not reliable). Her last completed emails were sent Thursday night.
Nicole's guidebook was also left in her room. In the back of her Lonely Planet "Middle East" guidebook she wrote directions to a number of places in Syria that we believe she copied from the Cairo Hotel's copy of the Lonely Planet "Syria" guidebook. Nicole spoke with some guests about these locations earlier in the week and the hotel clerk indicated that on the morning she disappeared, she asked for directions to the "Beehive Houses", a local sightseeing destination, as well as Qasr Ibn Wardan (a nearby castle).
No one at these locations recalls seeing Nicole (and they are not heavily visited) and the Qasr Ibn Wardan logbook has a record of only one visitor, Amin Ben Yahia, a person of interest to us (b. 1984, Algerian/Swiss nationality, father is Abbas, mother is Monica) in hopes that he remembers something unusual about that day.
Nicole preferred taking local transit, but none of the minibus drivers or locals remembers seeing her. As a foreigner, Nicole stood out in all of Syria, but particularly in Hama where the majority of women in Hama dress in robes and cover their hair. The streets from the hotel to the minibus pick-up are main streets with lots of people, even at 8:30 in the morning.
In May 2007, I flew to Syria with Nicole's fiancé Gary to re-trace her steps and meet with police and local officials. Gary spent an additional two months criss-crossing Syria searching for clues. My mother joined Gary in Syria in July 2007 and met with the Grand Mufti as well as the Minister of the Interior. She also made a personal plea on Syrian television and we put ads in the newspapers and local flyers. Gary and my mother returned to Syria in April 2008 to raise awareness and follow up on leads with officials and the police.
My mother returned to Syria with Gary for a third visit in March 2009 and we continue to work with Syrian government and police officials on the investigation.
There is up to 2,250,000 Syrian pounds ($45,000) in reward money for information leading us to Nicole.
We are currently looking for other guests at the Cairo Hotel in case they spoke with Nicole. A list is at the bottom of this page.
For pictures of Nicole and what she was wearing when she disappeared, as well as relevant personal information and summaries of the search so far, please visit:
From the "official" website, you can also submit anonymous tips, view the picture gallery and download posters and Nicole's notes. Arabic versions of most pages are also available.
You can always email me directly and anonymously at firstname.lastname@example.org
All comments and emails, public and private, are read immediately, but unfortunately I cannot respond to everyone. Feel free to respond in any language that you're comfortable with, though all of my responses will likely be in English.
March 31st, 2012 (Afternoon):
Today marks five years since Nicole disappeared from the Cairo Hotel or in the vicinity in Hama. Despite five years of searching, we really have no new clues as to what has happened to her, though we strongly suspect one of the hotel staff was involved.
Syria today is very different from Syria of five years ago. There are certainly no tourists in Hama anymore, and there probably won't be any going there in the immediate future either.
Hollywood tells us that stories always have an ending, but unfortunately that's just not true. In those first few weeks we were so confident we'd figure out what happened. And then as each lead dried up the worry in the back of our minds increased, "what if we never find her?". That has turned out to be the case and we may end up being one of those families still searching 20 or 30 years later. You can never really give up.
An old friend of Nicole's has been putting huge amounts of effort into finding her. He's been posting on Twitter and updating a blog with details. You can read some updates here, here, and here.
Other people continue to offer suggestions and take action. It is very difficult to keep up hope after so much time has passed. All we need is one person who knows or suspects what happens to come to us, but they'll probably be in Syria and unlikely to have access to us anymore. Hopefully one day.
March 6th, 2012 (Afternoon):
Canada has withdrawn all diplomats and government staff from Syria. All Canadians have been urged to leave Syria. As per the official Government of Canada Travel Report:
"Civil unrest and demonstrations have been occurring in many Syrian cities since March 2011. There has been extensive use of force by the security forces and military in suppressing demonstrations across the country. Many casualties and fatalities have been reported and protests and violent repression are likely to continue. Security operations have involved the complete lock-down of entire towns for periods varying from a few days to a few weeks. This may take place with little warning."
Needless to say, our hopes of getting any information about what happened to Nicole have diminished greatly in the short term.
February 11th, 2012 (Morning):
Syria continues to be in the news as world opinion is slowly being swayed by the stories of what is happening. Once again, no progress on our search as we approach nearly five years since Nicole went missing. To think that at first I thought this could be resolved in five days or at worse, five weeks!
January 7th, 2012 (Afternoon):
Another month of chaos in Syria. In early 2011, the violence in Syria wasn't making the international news very frequently, but that has certainly changed. It is not surprising that we have heard nothing from Syrian officials, Canadian embassy officials, or our own contacts within Syria. This makes it difficult to move forward in the search.
December 6th, 2011 (Afternoon):
Today is Nicole's 37th birthday. She disappeared when she was only 32.
In the nearly five years since she vanished from the Cairo Hotel in Hama, much has changed here at home. I'm married and have a baby. My step-brother has a baby. Nicole has two nieces now on my mom's side. There have been other weddings and children as well. Nicole would be startled and delighted by all the changes if she were to return. It's sad to think of all that she has missed.
It's also nice to know that she's not forgotten. I received an email this week from someone who stumbled across our search for the first time and was in Hama a few days after Nicole disappeared.
The information we need is likely located in Syria with the people hiding what happened (as we're confident that people know, but aren't saying). One hopes that at the conclusion of the current troubles, that information might be forthcoming.
Back in May I mentioned how Canada was imposing sanctions against Syria. These eventually went through but it turns out that while they include petroleum products, they exclude natural gas, which is what Suncor/Petro Canada are producing. When I was in Syria in 2007 the Canadian Ambassador had been meeting with Petro Canada (if I remember correctly) and apparently things have been successful. Perhaps we should have tried the media tactic of "the government will help us do business with Syria, but not find missing people"? It's not really our style though.
For her birthday, my mom wants me to pass this message on:
"Nicole, wherever you are, happy birthday Sweetheart. We all miss you terribly.
Love you forever, Mom."
November 5th, 2011 (Afternoon):
I just finished reading The Last Place You'd Look: True Stories of Missing Persons and the People Who Search for Them. I mentioned this book several months ago as the author, Carole Moore, contacted me about our search and included it in the book.
I thought I "knew it all" when it came to the grief of a missing person, but I see now that things could have been even worse. The stories that Carole tells are frightening. There's a 12-year old who heads off to a nearby department store while her mom renews her driver's licence and is never seen again. An 8-year old is looking for a Christmas tree with his father and grandfather and disappears forever. An 18-year old who is on the phone with his parents trying to meet up with them after a car accident only to utter "Oh, shit" and disconnect. He's never seen or heard from again.
My family has often thought, "if only we were in Syria with Nicole, this would not have happened". But what if it still did? What if one morning she headed off to the Hotel Cairo shower or breakfast and just never returned? And no one is able to offer clues or suggestions, no one is able to help. What a horrifying nightmare.
"The Last Place You'd Look" tells a lot of stories about missing people, and very few end well. Now that I watch for them, I see maybe one missing person story every few months. But it sounds like there are hundreds more that attract no attention. Outside of families that aren't as familiar with the media as we are, there are people who don't have families, or who are adults and not deemed missing. Teens who are considered runaways. Military personnel who go AWOL aren't considered missing, they are considered "deserters", but sometimes they've actually come to harm but no one knows to look. There are also the kids stolen by one of the parents. One heartbreaking story has the parents finding their kids (stolen by the grandparents) twenty years later and the kids want nothing to do with them.
I stayed up later than I should a few times this week as I got caught up in the various stories. In the end, there isn't a lot of new information for our search as most of it concentrates on the United States and North American organizations. But it helped in that I really know we're not alone. There are lots of people out there with missing loved ones and it is an injustice that so many have disappeared without any explanation. I will hold on tighter to my daughter after reading this.
October 7th, 2011 (Afternoon):
Absolutely nothing has changed since my last update in September so I'm just checking in quickly so people don't think the search is over in any way. Syria continues to be filled with unrest and I on occasion receive links that are very troubling to read or watch. With all of this going on, finding Nicole is no one else's priority.
September 11th, 2011 (Evening):
This month's update is later than usual due to vacation and the general hectic life when there's a baby in the house. It's very difficult to find the energy at the end of the day to write updates.
Glenn Davidson, the Canadian ambassador to Syria, has been moved to Afghanistan as of August 2011. We are not sorry to see Glenn go. Not only was he much less helpful than the previous Ambassador, he was actually an obstruction in a number of situations and did not appear to have the ear of the Syrians. Even if the new ambassador is an improvement, there is still the challenge of bringing him up to speed and trying to get him (or her) to actually care about Nicole's disappearance. I suspect we won't be able to that without returning to Syria, which will not happen during the current crisis.
Adnan Mohamad Bakkour, the Attorney General for the Hama region, resigned and denounced the regime a few weeks ago (here is another link). This is of interest to us as if there was any sort of cover-up, the Attorney General is likely to be aware of it. If we're able to reach him, we may be able to get more leads, or perhaps even a full explanation for Nicole's disappearance. Unfortunately, he's in hiding, possibly in Turkey, and likely has more important issues on his mind at the moment. If anyone has media connections (or Syrian connections) that can help, please follow up with them and let us know.
It's difficult to get a clear picture of what is happening in Syria right now because foreign journalists are not allowed in. A reporter managed to sneak in though and reported what he encountered. Chilling, though I also have concerns about accuracy that could be due to translation errors. For example, the 1982 crackdown was in Hama, not Homs.
With so much else going on in Syria, no one is able to assist us in our search for Nicole. We haven't heard from our representative in Syria for weeks. We are all very tired.
August 3rd, 2011 (Afternoon):
It has been a slow month in the search for Nicole, but a very busy month in Syria. Depending on your news source, you may or may not be aware of what appears to be a battle being waged in Hama where Nicole was last seen. Here are some links that have been forwarded to me in the past month:
New York Times interview
Montreal Gazette article
Needless to say, with tanks in the streets and thousands of protesters, we are assuming that very little is being done to find Nicole or investigate those who took her. I'm not really sure what to do next.
With Syria in the news again, I am hearing from some people that originally contacted me back in 2007. As always, it's good to know that people care and remember our search.
I was also contacted by a Syrian trying to get out of Syria. Unfortunately, I am unable to help in that regard - I don't have any special knowledge or insider information. As mentioned a few months ago, the Canadian government has indicated that they have higher priorities in Syria right now.
Livejournal, the website that hosts this blog, has been under Denial of Service attacks over the past week or so. If you can't connect to the blog, please wait a few hours or days and try again.
August 2nd, 2011 (Evening):
I've been away for the long weekend so I haven't had a chance to update here for the beginning of the month. I will get to it this week, likely tomorrow.
July 2nd, 2011 (Afternoon):
A wide variety of topics to cover this month.
I have disabled comments on this blog. The past few weeks have seen an upsurge in spam and each one of them has to be deleted both on the blog and in my email. For every 50 spam comments, I am getting one real one so the ability to comment has been removed. As always, if you wish to reach me you can email email@example.com.
Syria is in the news frequently this days. It is interesting to see it slowly move from the back pages to the front as the reports of violence increase. Earlier in June I read that 65 people were killed in Hama during a protest or uprising. These past few days it appears that the military and security forces have left (retreated?) from Hama and there are tens of thousands of people gathering there. None of this is confirmed by Western press as foreign reporters are not currently allowed in Syria.
I'm not sure what to make of the centre of protest being in Hama, where we are trying to find Nicole. I expect it is disrupting the courts and our attempts to find answers. Others have told me that until different people are in power locally, we'll never learn what we need - the corruption is too rife.
I was getting a daily email from within Syria detailing events and reporting from on the ground. It suddenly stopped about mid-June, which feels a bit ominous.
Early in June reports came out that a gay teenager was "grabbed" in Syria based on her blog. This was widely reported only to have the truth come out a few days later - it was a fake blog written by an American in Scotland. Needless to say, that kind of garbage is not helpful to anyone.
Joshua Landis, on the other hand, is a serious and professional blogger on Syria. You can read his thoughts here. He mentioned our search way back in November 2007.
Back on May 5th, the Globe and Mail here in Canada reported on Montreal police finding the body of Jolène Riendeau twelve years after she went missing. The Montreal Gazette reports on it here and it is painful to read her mom's reaction even after a dozen years. In the Globe article it correctly states that "You can never ask a parent of a missing child to grieve" - not until the child or their remains are found, which is what we are so desperately searching for.
Carol Moore, the author of "The Last Place You'd Look" (see the March 31st, 2011 update), linked me to a very similar search - a son gone missing in Laos, all his gear left behind, his digital camera found with photos, and no one willing to talk. You can read about the search on their blog. It's a strange feeling to realize we're not alone in this kind of situation.
Speaking of which, soon after Nicole went missing, 4-year old Madeleine McCann disappeared from a Portuguese hotel room. Her mom has just released a memoir in hopes of raising $1.5M to continue the search. It's already a best seller and being translated into Portuguese. I don't think most people realize just how expensive it is to lead a missing person search in a foreign country. Flights, hotels, investigators, advertising, web sites - it all adds up quite quickly. We have spent maybe a tenth of the funds they are raising just from the book and we were lucky to get the help of a lot of volunteers and donations. I wish we had a few million back in 2007 to do things properly.
The McCann search is no further ahead than ours, despite the press and the funding (though they have actually met with their Prime Minister, which we have not been able to do). The Portuguese government has recently given Scotland Yard permission to send investigators into Portugal to help with the search. Back in 2007 we were keen to get RCMP officers into Syria and thought it was held up due to Syria/Canadian relations. I realize now that it's just extremely rare to allow another police force into your country. The McCanns repeatedly talk about how no police force in the world is actively investigating. We certainly know how that feels.
Today is the second day of four months of parental leave for me. Every day with my daughter Emily strengthens our bond and makes me appreciate children and the terrible loss suffered by my mother and everyone else who has lost a child. It's a horrific experience that no one deserves.
May 31, 2011 (Evening):
The chaos continues in Syria. We are still no closer to finding Nicole.
One of our representatives traveled to Syria to attend one of our court sessions. Upon arrival he was surprised to hear that either the Embassy or our lead in Syria forgot to tell him not to come - the road to Hama from Damascus was not safe to travel. Since he was there, they traveled the road and he provided the information that was required. We are very grateful.
The Syrian court continues to ask for two of the American guests to travel to Syria to repeat what they've told us in person. Needless to say, given the current situation in Syria, that just isn't going to happen. We find it frustrating when the Syrian courts suggest this kind of action - either it's an intentional attempt to mess things up, or they're willfully oblivious to how unreasonable the request is.
The Canadian embassy in Syria is understandably distracted these past few months. I'm not clear on exactly how they were helping in the months prior to the current situation, but they're openly unavailable now.
We picked up the book on missing people that mentions Nicole called "The Last Place You'd Look" (see the March 31st, 2011 update) and I've read the passages on our search. They are accurate and once my mother is done reading the book, I will do the same.
I'm not sure where to start on the recent events in Syria.
The story that really caught our attention was Canadian reporter Dorothy Parvaz being detained in Syria and then shipped to Iran, spending a total of 19 days in custody. Here is an interview with Dorothy as well as an article she wrote describing her Syrian prison experience. As a long shot, I wondered if she might have stumbled across Nicole in prison, but it doesn't seem likely - we really don't think Nicole was arrested.
It's interesting to see how searches for missing people have changed since 2007 when we started. Facebook sites get a lot more hits. And because this was a journalist, there was a lot more publicity. There isn't, as far as I can see, any way to contact the family though - presumably they didn't need the help of the public to find her as they knew she was in prison relatively quickly.
The Canadian (or should I say "Harper"?) government is looking to impose sanctions against the Syrian government. This action was delayed due the recent election here. Speaking of the election, I can't say I'm sorry to see the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lawrence Cannon, lose his seat and get replaced. He was no help to us at all except for empty promises to meet "the next time he was in Toronto" - promises soon forgotten once our headlines died down.
In Syria itself, the violence continues. Reports came out yesterday of residents fighting back with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades against the government's tanks. The horror continues and needless to say, we will not be returning soon yet continue to hope that justice will be served.
May 1, 2011 (Afternoon):
There have been some significant events in Syria in the past month (and more). Protests flaring up in many cities, including Hama. The protesters have been attacked and shot. Because of my connections to various Syrians and Syrian causes due to this search, I have been sent links and videos and news updates that are not making it to the mainstream press.
I have seen some horrific things.
I am still haunted by video of a man with his jaw shot off during a protest. Nothing but a bloody hole where his tongue and chin used to be. Lying on the ground in shock with frantic Syrians rushing around him trying to get him out of there to medical help. Knowing that I am watching a man die is very difficult. Hearing the shrieks of grieving people around him is painful. Thinking that he has parents somewhere who are about to lose a son, much like mine lost a daughter, is like a kick to the stomach. I don't wish that feeling on anyone.
As I said, it's haunting - I can't get it out of my mind.
Needless to say, the search for Nicole is hardly at the forefront of Syrian authorities concerns these days. I am hopeful that our upcoming court date will still be on, but I would not be surprised if there were delays. I have been told that regime change will help us get to the truth and uncover the lies and cover ups. It seems to me that chaos will make things difficult, though it doesn't feel like we're getting to far with the people investigating things now.
We are/were planning a visit to Syria with some interested press. Try and capture what's going on for reporting back here in Canada. Again, with the chaos it's tough to tell what is happening, but I have heard that most Western press visas have been revoked, and the Department of Foreign Affairs advises against travelling to Syria at this time. It makes a trip back to Syria in the near future very unlikely.
Over the past four years a number of Syrians have contacted me to offer condolences, advice and assistance. Some of them have been extremely helpful with translating and asking questions within Syria. I hope all of the Syrians who are reading this are safe and stay that way.
March 31, 2011 (Evening):
Nicole disappeared four years ago today.
2007 seems like a very long ago now. I'm in a different house, a different job, I'm married and I have a baby girl. Nicole has missed all of it. The world has very much moved on, which can make you feel melancholy, but is also, as I've said many times, exactly how Nicole would want it. She has always been practical.
I'm becoming increasingly impractical when it comes to my own daughter. She becomes ever more precious to me the older she gets and we're only at five months of age. I can't imagine how strong the bond will be in a few years, or a few decades. My empathy for those that have lost children has increased significantly - it tears at my heart to even read such stories these days.
Speaking of reading stories, there is a new book out on missing persons and the people who search for them that has a section on Nicole. You can find it here, here, and here.
The author, a former police detective, spoke with me early last year and we sent her a photograph to use. I haven't gotten a copy yet, but I will soon. As the book description says, it's a starting point and overview of "the club no one wants to belong to", a very apt description of our situation. There is so much I've learned in this search that could help others in similar situations, but how do I pass that info? I know that in that first week or two, finding a book on the topic was never on my mind (I wouldn't have guessed that any existed). I believe it took a month to even get the FBI guide for families of missing people from the RCMP. Maybe pointing this book out to people early in the process will help.
From the book's press release:
“Except for very high profile cases, many missing persons slip from the public memory, leaving their families alone in their grief. Can you imagine not ever knowing what happened to our mother, your brother, your child, your spouse?” asks Moore, a former police investigator and contributing editor at Law Enforcement Technology Magazine. “I wrote this book to help families bring attention to their cases.”
Often families are on their own when it comes to looking for their missing loved ones. Police may have neither the resources nor inclination to pursue an investigation involving multiple jurisdictions and hundreds of man-hours. Smaller departments often lack specialized units dedicated to searching for the missing, and many times officers are ill prepared to track missing persons.
Families are also confronted with a double-edged sword: As long as the case is open, police won’t share with them the critical information gathered in the course of the investigation. They are only allowed access when the case is closed, which means the police are no longer actively looking for the missing person.
Pursuing a missing persons investigation is both expensive and emotionally draining. Families often must travel, hire private investigators, operate media campaigns and engage in search and rescue operations. Although volunteer organizations dedicated to helping families find the resources they need provide help, a proper search is expensive and takes time.
Families are also asked to do the unthinkable: Provide DNA, dental records and fingerprints, the significance of which is not lost on those left behind. Worry and stress also take their toll. As one official at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children told Moore, he is forever haunted by a mother who poignantly shared her wish to cover her missing child with a blanket because she had nightmares about the child being cold.
All of that is true.
We are considering returning to Syria this year, possibly soon. Without our presence, the work to find Nicole moves very slowly. The court meets every 4-6 weeks to discuss our issue but we have no idea when it will all be resolved or whether it will even end up helping us find Nicole. To add some volatility, the political situation in Syria is heating up. In these times, it's impossible to tell whether things will calm down or erupt into violence and revolution. No matter what happens, it means Nicole's disappearance goes even farther back in people's minds.
Here in Canada where we have a sudden election call, it's the same situation. The bureaucrats don't change much, but the politicians might. I'm not sure any party represents significant change in foreign policy though.
I fear that despite our best efforts, we'll remain in the dark for years or possibly forever. This article on a little boy missing for 20 years tells me that the feelings don't go away. And to think their son disappeared here in Canada, benefited from thousands of tips and lots of coverage and modern technology, and yet he's still missing. It can happen anywhere.
March 2, 2011 (Evening):
It's been a wearying month, but that mostly relates to being a new father and the stresses of work. Even the vacations aren't really relaxing. I now have a full appreciation of everyone saying to me, "say goodbye to your free time!" when we were expecting.
There was another meeting of the courts in Syria in early February to work on our concerns. Once again there are delays and once again a request for us to fly people over to provide testimony. We assume it is a stall tactic, but to be fair, I'm not sure even how the Canadian courts would handle witnesses in other countries. Do they send them a summons and if they don't show up, too bad?
The courts will meet again in two weeks.
March 1, 2011 (Evening):
Apologies for not posting - it's been a hectic past few days at work and I haven't had a chance. Will aim to fix tomorrow.
January 31, 2011 (Evening):
As predicted, the new baby has pushed me to a monthly update instead of every 3 weeks. Finding 30 or 60 minutes to myself when I'm in the mood to respond to emails and write blog posts is not easy. Today will just be a blog post as my job is keeping me exceptionally busy recently (enjoyable, but draining).
My step-brother Peter turned 33 earlier this month. Mom pointed out that he "passed" Nicole as she was just 32 when she disappeared. Peter is also having a baby - another event Nicole will likely miss.
At my mom's yesterday I noticed for the first time in a while the many pieces of Nicole's art around the house. Nicole studied art at university and while her later work was out there (though shipped back by Gary in the past few years), her earlier sculptures, carvings and paintings are throughout the house. There are also numerous pictures of Nicole herself, but many of them are reminders because I've seen them so often on our websites or in the newspaper. Her art just brings a warm glow of familiarity.
Mom was happy to have finally resolved our many issues with the bank and Nicole's accounts after several years of trying. She had to talk to the bank ombudsman to get it done, but finally the service fees will be waived and the mail will be re-directed to Mom's house. Promotional material won't be sent (I believe) and account inactivity won't cost us $20 a year, etc. It was arguably a small irritant, but an irritant none the less - to insist on a signature from Nicole when a letter has already been received from the RCMP is frustrating. It's good to have it dealt with.
The Middle East has been abuzz with a lot more than Nicole's disappearance these past weeks. Nicole and I were in Egypt and Jordan just two weeks before she disappeared in Syria, so I have some knowledge of what it's like there. Certainly there is extreme poverty and rampant corruption - the police seemed to exist only to try and get bribes from tourists. I can see why people are unhappy. This doesn't seem like an appropriate place to talk of non-Syrian or Canadian politics, however, which brings us to the Foreign Affairs response to the Egypt situation. As expected, their staff are away for the weekend, it takes hours to get through, and no one knows anything. As I continue to emphasize - you are on your own if you are Canadian and get in trouble in a foreign country. The government back here at home will not be able to help. I can't imagine the chaos of trying to find out what has happened to any Canadians who go missing in Egypt right now, especially given the lack of communications and, as of today, train and airport service.
Our court case comes up again in February - let's hope for some sort of concrete action this time.
December 30th, 2010 (Evening):
This holiday season has been different from the past four that Nicole has missed. With Emily joining us, I am seeing how her various aunts (my sister and sister-in-law) handle her and enjoy spending time with her. It has brought Nicole to mind more frequently than I would have expected. Would Emily trigger Nicole's mothering instinct? Would she calmly hold her when she cries? Would she dote and be playful with her? I'd like to see all these things.
The Toronto Star called for an interview out of the blue on Tuesday morning. They wanted to talk about what it's like not to know what happened to your loved one. The article just went up here and will presumably be in the paper tomorrow morning. The photographer used to work with my dad (a lot of the media people I've met worked with him - he had along career with the Star and Global) and it was an entertaining photo session.
Reading the other stories in the article, I was surprised that I hadn't heard of Poonam Litt's disappearance, or at least I hadn't noted it. To have a new mother disappear like that is horrific - I don't know what I'd do if my wife suddenly vanished now that we have a newborn in our lives. I also like what Christina Calayca's mother has done by printing large poster-sized photos of her daughter. Very helpful for interviews and press conferences (not that we have held any yet).
The Star interview brought up a number of topics that didn't make it to the article. Many people leave a "shrine" to their missing children - a room in the house that never changes or something like that. We haven't done that, but the option was never really available. Nicole moved out West years ago and brought all of her stuff with her, and once she was there she frequently gave her things away before heading away on long trips, so there isn't a place that has just been hers for years.
We also didn't put our lives entirely on hold since Nicole disappeared. Certainly for that first month everything else stopped (and it was very convenient that I was a contractor and able to take a month off) but in the ensuing years I have not held off getting married or having a baby. As I told the interviewer, not only would Nicole not want us to derail our lives like that, she would think it to be absolutely absurd. Nicole is very practical that way.
Hmm. As I typed that last line I had to decide whether to use "is" or "was". I find myself noticing that a lot - both myself and other people talking about Nicole in the past tense. Grammatically, I suspect it is correct, but it almost feels politically incorrect, as if at all times we should speak in the most hopeful manner. I'm guessing it's the same for families of people who are terminally ill - no one wants to talk about "when they are dead". Heck I don't have to guess, it was like that with my father when he discovered he had just 4-6 weeks to live back in 2004.
Thinking of Dad again, when talking with Rick, the Star photographer, I brought up how this search might have been different had Dad been around to shake things up in Ottawa with all his connections. Some have suggested that we've done just as much as he could have, or at least would have ended up in the same place, but I don't think that's true and Rick agreed. Dad would have been able to keep the story going longer and engaged politicians more fully. Would that have pressured the Syrians into investigating any faster? There are certainly no guarantees of that. The current investigation has been delayed again - this time until February. Just when I was starting to think delays were a thing of the past, they've come back. Nothing we can do about it though.
Hopefully the new year will bring closure to our search. I don't get too hopeful because that just leads to disappointment, but it certainly would be nice.
December 6th, 2010 (Evening):
(Posted by my mother)
An ancient Bedouin saying states, “The way to keep a trail alive is to walk on it.”
This comment was posted last year on the blog and it has been taped across the front of my computer since then. Whenever I start feeling discouraged with our progress, it reminds me to just ‘walk the trail, one more time’.
So here I am, posting once again. It seems like just yesterday it was Nicole’s 35th birthday, and yet today is her 36th. Despite what is said, it doesn’t get any easier with time. All that time does is gnaw away at the hope to which we cling.
Unfortunately, we still do not know what has happened. The investigation continues in Syria. I use this term loosely since it comes nowhere close to the standards of investigation we expect. What has become obvious to many of the people involved in the case is that the Syrian authorities know more than they are telling us. But trying to get at the truth has been a painfully slow process. We’ve learned that nothing, nothing at all, happens quickly in the Middle East.
I have said it before but I cannot say it enough. I would like to thank everyone for everything they have done to support the family in trying to find Nicole. As time passes, I appreciate more and more just how important that support has been. It’s in the little things, such as just asking if there is any news. Even if there isn’t any, at least I know that people are still thinking about her. We were at the wedding in September of the son of close family friends. Matt was the best man. This was an event that if Nicole had been here, she and Gary would certainly have attended. I’m sure the groom realized this as well, since when they showed pictures of his ‘life’, there was one, taken a few years back, of him and his sister, plus Matt, Nicole and Gary hiking in the mountains. It meant so much to me to see that picture, that she was being included, not forgotten.
I also want to thank Matt. He is the one who keeps ‘the trail alive’ with his regular postings. I know at times he struggles as to what to say, but in the end he always comes up with something. We have had to hold some info back, but he knows that eventually he will get to post it all.
Not a day goes by without thoughts of Nicole filling my mind. Over the past month, with the birth of Matt’s daughter, her absence is even more obvious. Nicole would have been thrilled for Matt and thrilled to be an aunt. She and Gary would have come to Toronto for sure for Christmas to see the new little one. But alas, it is not to be this year.
The pain is in not knowing. Not knowing whether she is still alive. Not knowing what has happened. Not knowing when we might get some closure. I oscillate between utter rage at the thought that she might have met a violent end and overwhelming sadness at not being able to find her.
Nicole, wherever you are, Happy Birthday Sweetheart. We all miss you terribly.
Love you forever, Mom
November 28th, 2010 (Morning):
The past month since Emily was born has flown by very quickly. Newborns require a lot of time and attention, something that those of you with kids likely understand quite well. I suspect this means that in 2011 the blog updates will become monthly instead of every three weeks.
Thank you to the people that wrote with congratulations.
Having a daughter has given me even greater appreciation for what Mom is going through as a parent. Emily has only been with us for a month but that protective bond of love has grown deep and it's horrific to imagine losing her. This was not helped by her difficult birth where we did risk losing her - I think it has us watching over her even more closely than nervous new parents normally do.
Over in Syria our court matter is moving forward on schedule, which is good. A bit of a setback involving what we feel might be pressure from interested parties isn't welcome, but apparently it won't be critical (we hope). I'm being intentionally vague about the Syrian court matters as we don't want to disrupt the investigation, but one day all will be revealed, hopefully alongside key information leading us to Nicole.
November 7th, 2010 (Morning):
It's been a while since I have posted anything significant, but with good reason - my wife and I had a baby girl last week!
Emily Nicole Vienneau was born on Wednesday, October 27th. 5 pounds, 12 ounces. She wasn't breathing when she arrived after 30+ hours of labour, but the doctors got that fixed up and she's sleeping peacefully in my lap as I type this, healthy and very cute. Mom is absolutely delighted by her and visits frequently.
Needless to say, my time has been full in preparation of Emily's arrival and now in adjusting to the change in lifestyle. This has kept me from updating.
Over in Syria, our court issue seems to be going well. While in the hospital mom quickly filled me in that decisions are being made and actions taken. I'll get more information later this week and hopefully it will lead to something helpful.
In local news, the father of Mariam Makhniashvili, the 17-year old Russian girl who disappeared on the way to school here in Toronto, was arrested for attempted murder this week. Theirs is a troubled family and the father has been in and out of trouble since before his daughter went missing. A very sad situation.
October 9th, 2010 (Evening):
My mother and I were interviewed recently for this article that was released today.
September 19th, 2010 (Evening):
Another three weeks have passed with little improvement in the situation. Not unexpectedly, the August court date was put off until October - endless delays upon endless delays. We continue to "learn" the Syrian legal system and continue to be frustrated.
It was my birthday a few weeks ago - the fourth one that Nicole has missed. I'm going to "gift" myself by keeping this update short. Hopefully in the next three weeks something more significant will have happened, but it seems doubtful.
August 29th, 2010 (Evening):
As far as we know, our court matter in Syria was discussed/worked on in the past few days. We're waiting to hear back from our lawyer to see if anything came of it, or if it will continue in another month.
A reader pointed out that once again someone has disappeared here in Canada without a trace. In this case it's the older couple in Alberta who went missing in early July. Their motor home was found burnt to the ground but the RCMP took forever to put it all together and start searching for them. The RCMP has not had a good couple of years recently - I'm not sure if it's a cultural issue throughout the force, a funding issue, or something else.
Went through my pictures from the past few years today, trying to sort them a bit. A lot of memories come back rushing in with those that we've used in the search. Both my mother and I now really appreciate photos of Nicole that we've kept private and that can be enjoyed separate from our search for her.
August 8th, 2010 (Evening):
For probably a year now we've been awaiting the outcome of a court matter we're trying to push through in Syria. This is one of the items where we felt the Canadian government could have done more to accelerate the process as it appeared that local politics and possibly corruption was constantly shifting our case to the bottom of the pile. We finally jumped through all the hurdles and the case was to be heard in late July. Much to our surprise, it actually was heard in late July, but not to my surprise, it was not completed and will continue at a later date. Not a "tomorrow" kind of later date, but a "late August" kind of later date. At this point, nothing would surprise me more than having something actually happen in Syria in a timely manner. The Ambassador to Syria back in 2007 said, "the wheels of justice grind extremely slowly" and he was not exaggerating.
That being said, this article about the 25th anniversary of 8-year old Nicole Morin's disappearance right here in Toronto is a grim reminder of what our family is likely facing. Morin disappeared without a clue on the way to the elevator and despite a massive search using all the modern tools available, nothing has ever been found. I'm sure Nicole's father knows that same feeling of helplessness that we've experienced over the past years, and he's known it for much, much longer. My heart goes out to him.
A few weeks ago I reported that the "Tips" email option on the official website never actually worked. Now it does work and the only "tips" I get are spam emails. I suspect it wouldn't have been like that back in 2007, but I still have to hope that anyone with a real tip would have been willing to email me directly.
An old friend of Nicole's made an interesting connection - over the past few years several severed feet have been found washed up on the shore in British Columbia. It was noticed that the shoes were New Balance shoes, just like Nicole's. An extremely unlikely connection, and a quick search showed that the shoes were size 12 men's, but I appreciate that people are keeping our search in mind as they go about their regular life and once in a while something jumps out at them that might be related.
July 18th, 2010 (Afternoon):
Another quiet three weeks. Mom was away on a much needed vacation and life (work, family) has been keeping me busy as well.
A reader contacted me more than three years since we last spoke and she helped us. She continues to check the blog in hopes of seeing that we've found her. I've said it before - it's nice to know that people are still reading and hoping.
Unfortunately, as this article and this article show (sent to me by our most earnest volunteer), it can take up to 17 years before one finds the body of a missing girl. In this case they not only have a suspect, the suspect appears to have struck again in a different country. Once again, it looks like the police weren't able to follow up on leads that should have been noted. And even when they were, legal barriers held them back. We certainly know how that feels. And I really hope we don't spend the next 17 years feeling it.
This story also raises the issue of "where might Nicole be hidden". As was pointed out to me - if no one saw her outside the hotel, then she must still be in the hotel. This isn't quite true - the attackers have had three years to tidy things up and I would be extremely shocked if the local police did a thorough investigation of the grounds. Very shocked. Yet again one of the exasperating aspects of this situation - Gary and I are doing the investigating. If only the police had searched every nook and cranny within days of her going missing, then we might have more clues.
In more positive news, I'm going to be a father later this year for the first time. I already sense in myself an increased hesitancy to explore and adventure due to what happened to Nicole. I am guessing it will be a constant battle to not be too overprotective of my own children.
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Here are the guest lists for the Cairo Hotel (where Nicole was staying) and the Riad Hotel (right next door). Please look them over and let me know if you recognize anyone so we can ask them if they spoke with Nicole. Keep in mind that these are the phonetic translations of English names to Arabic and back, so they may not be spelled correctly (or even close to correctly).
The Cairo Hotel - Do You Know Anyone On This List?
The Riad Hotel (Arrived After March 28th) - Do You Known Anyone On This List?
The Riad Hotel (Arrived Before March 28th) Do You Known Anyone On This List?
The Citadel Hotel - Do You Known Anyone On This List?
On his own initiative, a friend of Nicole's in Vancouver has put up a "YouTube" video.
Another reader has done her own "YouTube" video as well.
Here's a TV interview with me regarding Nicole, if anyone is interested.
Original Post from April 22nd, 2007:
As a few of you are aware, I am the oldest of a medley of half- and step- siblings including an 18-year old brother, a 17.5 year old sister and a 29-year old brother. In addition to that I have a 32-year old sister who I didn't really get along with all that well growing up until she moved across the country for university and we spent some time apart. Three thousand kilometres can do wonders for a relationship, and we've gotten along a lot better now that we're both grown up and not fighting over Lego.
My sister likes going on long solo trips to third world countries. And by long, I mean that her shortest trip was around six months. Over the past 10-15 years, she has spent six to nine months in Asia, six to nine months in Latin America and six to nine months in south and east Africa. The last trip happened to coincide with the 2001 Magic Invitational that I was covering in Capetown, so she and I met up afterwards at Victoria Falls and spent three weeks travelling through Botswana, Namibia and Capetown. It was the best trip of my life - I recommend everyone visit.
Late last year my sister headed on out to west Africa for another seven months of travel. Starting in Morocco, her plan was to head through under-travelled countries such as Mali and Ghana, and then fly up to Egypt and the Middle-East, ending in Turkey. As she began her travels, I found myself in the awkward position of promising the Armoire a vacation and yet being unable to follow through. As a result, I was looking at other, non-Magic related, trips that I would still enjoy. Egypt had always been a dream and with my sister heading through at roughly the time we wanted to go, everything was gravy. (what exactly does that mean?)
After a month of travelling together, the Armoire and I left my sister in Jordan and came back mid-March. I didn't write anything about it because I've spent the past month doing nothing but talking about Egypt with friends and family so I was a bit weary of the subject. In summary: Egypt was okay but I wouldn't likely return, Jordan was fantastic and I see myself visiting the Middle-East again at some point in the future.
Whenever my sister announces a new trip, my parents start getting upset and begin worrying. They were certain that the two of us were in mortal danger in Africa (both times) and are always fretting about disease and mayhem. My sister's arrival in Lebanon in March was an occasion for much stress at Sunday night dinner with my mom.
One of the methods we use to make sure everything is okay is that my sister has to email or call home every fourteen days, or my mom will contact Foreign Affairs and have them hunt her down. This only had to happen once back in the 1990s for my sister to take it seriously and always contact us. She also is in regular communication with her ever-understanding boyfriend in Vancouver.
My sister hasn't emailed anyone since March 29th, roughly three and a half weeks ago.
We know she made it out of Lebanon and was in Syria. Her Syrian visa expired on April 5th, so we presume that she's in Turkey, but can't say for certain. My mom contacted Foreign Affairs on Thursday and they're checking if she crossed the border (we hope). But it's a long-weekend in the Middle-East so we haven't heard anything (perhaps tomorrow). They suggested that young girls can get caught up in things and forget to email, but she's not that young (my apologies to her in advance!) and she's not foolhardy - you don't successfully navigate all these trips by being silly.
I want to think that she's okay. Something along the lines of she's stuck in obscure mountain villages with no access to the outside world. But it seems increasingly unlikely. Maybe she's sending emails and they're somehow not getting through, but I can't imagine why. On the other hand, if something has gone wrong, wouldn't the local authorities have mentioned it to the Embassy? Does Canada even have a Syrian embassy?
It's very troubling. And there doesn't seem to be much you can do. We may start trying to contact all the budget hostels along the border (my sister uses the Lonely Planet to travel), but other than flying over with a photo, you're kind of left waiting for the government to do the work.
Some questions for the world:
1. What other reasonable explanations could there be for her not contacting us?
2. Any other ideas on how to find or reach her?
All my Turkish and Syrian readers are especially encouraged to post!
Current Mood: worried
Current Music: Gerard McMann - "Cry Little Sister"
Tags: jacqueline nicole vienneau missing syria