The Beginning Of My Ascendance - My Sister, Nicole Vienneau, Has Gone Missing in Syria
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(*The blog is no longer being updated regularly due to the civil war in Syria.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.
( Click Here For Additional/Older Details...Collapse )
Current Mood: worried
Current Music: Gerard McMann - "Cry Little Sister"
Tags: jacqueline nicole vienneau missing syria
|Date:||June 5th, 2007 10:06 pm (UTC)|| |
Are you aware about this link ?
|Date:||June 6th, 2007 01:55 am (UTC)|| |
Re: syria-news link
No I wasn't - thanks for pointing it out. I wish it included a link to the web page!
|Date:||June 6th, 2007 02:41 am (UTC)|| |
I will be in Syria soon and I'll print out Jacqueline's photo to keep with me during my trip in Syria.
|Date:||June 7th, 2007 12:08 pm (UTC)|| |
I hope She's Alive
Hi, My name is Rouand, and I am from Syria. I live in Damascus
I couldn't read all comments, as the number is quite huge.
I know that so much time has passed since your beloved sister has dissipated, i was really shocked to read about the incident.
I really don't want to add any more theories about her disappearance, and only pray that she is OK. and that someday she will return back to Canada for the sake of her parents, friends, Canadians, and the Syrian people.
Let's hope for the best.
|Date:||June 7th, 2007 05:01 pm (UTC)|| |
I have noticed on the guest list,few americans that had a syrian residency,it only means couple thing,either they are syrian origin visiting syria with american passport(unlikely) or they are americans working in syria (thats how they obtained syrian residency),the reason they show there residency ,is to get low fares as syrian resident instead of paying high tourist fare...this shouldn't be hard to find out,who they are.
it is most likely she was talking to those 7 people (i think they are family or close friend,they checked same date under same statue)cause they lived long enough in syria and have knowledge of surroundings.(cathrine powers-william powers-rona diger-david-mardos fakse-cathrine lu-barbara lu)by the way i think mardos fakse sounds more like an arab name to me than american....
|Date:||June 8th, 2007 09:55 am (UTC)|| |
Wonder if that group of people could be teachers - working at an international school maybe - or students of Arabic. Anyone want to try to send an email to international schools in Damascus asking them to look at this website? How about Arabic language schools in Syria - anyone have a contact that could post this web page on their message boards?
|Date:||June 8th, 2007 08:44 am (UTC)|| |
Hi, Glad you took my previous advice about distributing business cards with her photo on. Do they also have milk cartons in Syria with missing faces on - could be worthwhile exporing.
Sorry to explore this option, but have you visited the local morgues in the regions she was missing?
Did she have her passport with her or has it been found?
As for the guest lists of names, couldn't the airlines help you track these individuals? Taking into account they could of backpacked their way to Syria, rather than taking a direct flight - so could be difficult.
If the airlines aren't helpful, what about checking with Student/Backpacker discount ISIC and sending them the details of the guests to see if they have them on their DB's. If they can't disclose the info maybe they could contact them on your behalf, http://www.istc.org
Also they have offices in Syria, perhaps contacting them and seeing how they can help you with advice on where to look/who to contact:
What about checking with HI (Hostelling International) also, http://www.hiayh.org
Hope this helps,
|Date:||June 8th, 2007 08:47 am (UTC)|| |
Re: More suggestions...
One other thing, what about contacting travel agencies like STA Travel. They can place her missing poster in their offices and give out your business cards to travellers to Syria...worth a try!
|Date:||June 8th, 2007 11:34 am (UTC)|| |
Regarding Tripoli Pension
Haddad Pension "Just like staying at grandma's place." sounds like the place Nicole wrote about staying at.
Quoted from the Lonely Planet website pages http://www.lonelyplanet.com/worldguide/destinations/middle-east/lebanon/tripoli?poi=162763
Tel: 06 03 507 709 (info)
Tel: 06 03 507 709 (info)
|Date:||June 10th, 2007 05:48 pm (UTC)|| |
Re: Regarding Tripoli Pension
That sounds like exactly the right place. I've updated the itinerary to show that we've answered that question.
|Date:||June 8th, 2007 03:11 pm (UTC)|| |
I wish I could help
I am a Canadian young woman who lived in Egypt for 2 years and travelled to Jordan, Lebanon and Syria on several occasions. Ive been to the Cairo hotel in Hama and I wish I could you in anyway to find your sister but Im not residing in the ME anymore. Be strong and courageous! I wish you all the best.
|Date:||June 9th, 2007 12:15 am (UTC)|| |
Travel to Syria ill advised at the present time
It appears that both Israel and Syria are preparing for war at the moment. You should check the most recent OSAC bulletin for Syria, found here:
Other sources confirm the information in this bulletin and further indicate that Syria is also acquiring resources and implementing plans for war with Israel.
This creates an insecure environment for travel in general and may cause Syria to restrict access and/or limit their ability to cooperate with your investigative efforts.
|Date:||June 9th, 2007 05:56 am (UTC)|| |
Re: Travel to Syria ill advised at the present time
You misunderstood the article. It has been like this for 40 years!
|Date:||June 10th, 2007 10:02 am (UTC)|| |
Free online PDF Reader
Here is a free onlnie pdf reader for those who don't have adobe. http://view.samurajdata.se/
I would put this link on your downloads page and explain that they can right click on the download link and select copy shortcut and then paste it into the free pdf reader page where it accepts links. Then people can see your pdf files. I would also change your downloads into different formats (.jpg and .doc for the posters) and Microsoft works (*.wks) and text (*.txt) files for other things.
|Date:||June 10th, 2007 10:09 am (UTC)|| |
Re: Free online PDF Reader
Also, if you can just put copies of the lists embedded on the webpage it would be a big help so people don't have to do a download to see them. By the way, I can't find them (the guest lists). I am using IE 7 I think.
If it is difficult for you to figure out how to make the webpage, use googlepages as your secondary pages and link to them from your main page. Googlepages is super easy -what you see is what you get- to use. So what I mean is, use your .com page as your main page but use the googlepages for other pages esp. ones you update often (and it is free).
Also, can you add a place in your form for tips to upload files? I can't remember if you put one or not. People can easily upload any files they make for you.
Did you ever get an 800 number that people in syria can call? If nothing else, perhaps ou can get a local number with voicemail that emails the messages to your account. Skype might allow that if they have local Syrian numbers (have no clue).
|Date:||June 10th, 2007 09:39 pm (UTC)|| |
Was she too trusting?
Do you think Nicole trusted strangers too much? Like would she have ridden in a car with just anyone (a truck driver for example)?
Did you check truck driver routes?
|Date:||June 19th, 2007 03:21 am (UTC)|| |
Re: Was she too trusting?
Nicole didn't trust anyone quickly, but based on her earlier journal entries, she was still willing to hitchhike if that was the only way to get some place. The people of the Middle East are incredibly friendly and throughout Africa it is common to offer rides and hitch, so that's a likely possibility for her disappearance. She wouldn't have gotten in if she got a bad vibe, and was very safety conscious.
I'm not sure how to check truck driver routes? Can you explain a bit more?
|Date:||June 11th, 2007 10:48 pm (UTC)|| |
Check the link..they may be able to help.
|Date:||June 11th, 2007 11:53 pm (UTC)|| |
women's groups in Syria
|Date:||June 12th, 2007 11:12 am (UTC)|| |
I've been following the story of your sister for awhile and my thoughts go out to you and your family. Have you thought at all to checking other countries, like Lebanon to see if maybe her passport had been stamped there? Eitherif she crossed over or if someone crossed over using her passport, that would be good information to have.
|Date:||June 12th, 2007 09:41 pm (UTC)|| |
I think it is a great idea to track her passport number. Can the Syrian government tell you if someone left the country using her passport number?
The thing is there are a lot of foreign refugees in Syria right now and a lot of them would buy a Canadian passport in order to get into another country. I think though that once they arrive at another country they usually destroy their fake/stolen passport so your best bet would be if the Syrians track passport numbers upon exit.
|Date:||June 12th, 2007 10:04 pm (UTC)|| |
Sorry to hear about your sister..
prayers do nothing. God doesn't pick and choose who is going to live or die or be killed or found.. Being positive that your sister can endure anything and that if she is captured that they are not brutal.
Please put in your page that no one is safe in forieng countries and that your sister might or might not be strong enough and if she is then positive thoughs sent out to her will impower her and really this is a tragaty.. sorry for being blunt but everyone know that where she went is so dangerous that its like playing Russion roulet...
So sorry And GOD bless her what every and where ever she is.....
|Date:||June 13th, 2007 02:25 am (UTC)|| |
Re: Sorry to hear about your sister..
Sorry but your comments are useless, you know as much as any of us.
People are contributing here but suggesting ways of finding her or answering questions posted on the site. I suggest you do the same...
|Date:||June 12th, 2007 10:21 pm (UTC)|| |
Getting US and International media to pay attention
I presume you need our politicians to put pressure on other countries and medias. I think it would be very hard as an individual or family to do that alone.
Your blog so far seems to be doing well, what about appealing to "gossip bloggers" (Like Perez Hilton)? It may help gain broader readership internationally. I feel awfully flakey to have suggested it, but who knows if it's helpful advice.
Perhaps have your MP and MPP find ways of getting international media attention.
|Date:||June 12th, 2007 11:40 pm (UTC)|| |
Re: Getting US and International media to pay attention
How about contacting the Canadian Ambassador's office in Damascus, who in turn, could chat with his/her opposite numbers at the other embassies there, and ask them to relay the details to their home countries' media? It might work, if only as a travel advisory, or a means of soliciting info about the foreign visitors at the Cairo and Riad hotels.
|Date:||June 14th, 2007 04:50 am (UTC)|| |
Thanks for telling us
Matt, thanks for telling us that making a donation now, rather than later, would make a difference at this point in time. I'd been planning to do so, but just hadn't done it yet. Hope my small contribution can help.
I agree the ad cost seems crazy, but it's not too much if it helps to find Nicole. Don't hesitate to do it, you never know.
|Date:||June 15th, 2007 03:31 am (UTC)|| |
Re: Thanks for telling us
I've been reading your site daily in the hopes that one day, I'll be able to see you report that she was found alive. Good point about reminder to donate. I kept putting it off myself. It just takes 2 minutes of your time. Readers, please donate. A small amount from many people can make a HUGE difference.
|Date:||June 14th, 2007 05:48 am (UTC)|| |
Update and Suggestions
Alot of users are posting good questions/answers in this comment section - perhaps you could tidy up this section also by posting answers to these questions or unanswered questions on your site.
I made some comments before and you seemed to implement them, but didn't mention my other idea of searching local morgues and giving them your photo of Nicole in case she's there/shows up...sorry had to mention it.
How about tracing her footsteps with a recreation, getting a woman who looks like Nicole, wearing the same clothes to visit the places she went to...maybe can jog someone's memory. Maybe you could get the local media to report it.
I agree with another user, you need more exposure. You're doing great getting Canadian media involved, but I'm thinking it's giving Canadian newsmakers a story rather than helping your case - but any news is good news.
How about targetting Canadian celebrities to get promotion. One well known one is Mike Myers who's just released Shrek 3. If he has a blog, perhaps he could kindly mention your story and link to your site?
I was also thinking about getting Syrian Celebrities and their blogs involved, but can't think of a famous Syrian at the moment...can anyone suggest a celebrity and their blog?
Are you getting 3 days worth of 3 full page colour ads in 3 popular Syrian newspapers? The price doesn't sound so bad.
I also think it's urgent that you get a Syrian language site setup, so you should pay for that...
|Date:||June 14th, 2007 05:51 am (UTC)|| |
Re: Update and Suggestions
Just a reply to my own question, here's an even better list of Syrian Americans/Canadians, contact them and ask them to link to your story...the Syrian/American link is a good avenue to pursue:
|Date:||June 15th, 2007 02:32 am (UTC)|| |
Unfortunately, I think you are being quoted 'foreigner' prices, hence the outrageous sum of money they're asking. Even with fierce negotiations, the price will be still be up there because of this reason.
My thoughts are with you and your family during this ordeal. I met Nicole a few years back through one of her friends.
|Date:||June 15th, 2007 05:33 pm (UTC)|| |
Just a thought!!
Would it be possible to view satelite spy shots? I thought you could view a mouse from those things. Could they spot her activity on that day?
|Date:||June 16th, 2007 04:13 am (UTC)|| |
I am an expatriate Syrian. My suggestion is to talk to someone local to advise you on the value of the $15K ads in the paper. How many copies do they sell? Do people really buy them? Do they distribute them well in all of Syria. Mind you they are 90% propaganda. My guess is that they will help you reach the simple people living in remote areas who cannot afford better journalism and if this is the case it is worth it.
|Date:||June 19th, 2007 02:52 am (UTC)|| |
Re: Syrian Newaspaper
It's being handled by the Canadian Embassy, so we're trusting their knowledge of the local newspaper scene. We're presuming it's the biggest daily papers in the country, and as you say, we hope to reach the more remote areas yet also spread as wide a net as possible in case a possible witness has moved on.
|Date:||June 18th, 2007 05:39 pm (UTC)|| |
Try This Camping Team
this link " http://www.rowad.org " belongs to a camping team in Syria, We used to camp around Homs and Hama and being in touch with area locals, I left the team since I moved to Egypt, Try to contact them they are popular and friendly in Syria hope they can do anything, this E-mail address is for their boss " email@example.com " as they mentioned in their website, to browse the site in english use the " http://www.google.com/translate_t " service, wish you can get Nicole back soon.
|Date:||June 20th, 2007 07:31 am (UTC)|| |
I guess everyone is checking by land, but what about by local rivers/lakes?
Sorry to ask a silly question, but are her posters in the reception of the last hotel she was staying in. Travellers she was friendly with may return to the same hotel a few weeks/months later and then realise she is missing.
I think you need to get local media involved. The paper and poster idea is good, but a bit quiet and you have to catch people at the right time/place.
Why not attract your own publicity - get a maniquin, dress it up in the same clothes as what she was wearing and parade it around the places she was last seen. Perhaps get a loudspeaker/translator involved also explaining the situation, the police might let you do this...
|Date:||June 20th, 2007 07:45 am (UTC)|| |
Re: More Ideas
Maybe "cluching at straws here" but...
Did a quick internet search and found these tourists did similar travel to your sister, perhaps could shed light on the places she went to the day before/day missing:
"Trip to Aphamia
We went to Aphamia by minibus. It's best to take a (cheap) taxi to the busstation which is about 2 km outside of Hama. We had to change minibuses once. They dropped us off at the Museum of Aphamia which is quite nice with some great frescoes. We got in for 100 S£. You can also do this as an organized trip with the Cairo hotel. They will take in the Qalaat Shayzar, a fortress on the way. Then you have to go up the mountain for about 1 km to the actual site. You have to pay again to get in (300 S£). The site is actually a road of 2 km boarded with columns."
"Trips around Hama
Both the Cairo and the Riad hotel now organise trips either by car or by minibus to Crac des Chevaliers (1/2 day), but there's also an interesting day trip including:
- a village with beehive houses
- Qasr ibn Warden, a ruined desert castle (150 S£)
- the deserted city of Serjilla (150 S£) and Al-Bara (free!!). These cities have pretty well preserved Roman houses"
|Date:||June 20th, 2007 04:42 pm (UTC)|| |
keep the faith
as a female who loves to travel, your sister's disappearance has touched me hugely. i contributed to your trust fund, wish there was more i could do to help. i dearly hope your sister will be found safe and soon. don't give up hope.
|Date:||June 20th, 2007 05:50 pm (UTC)|| |
Maybe we could assign one name from the guest list to each person that wanted to help look, that way no names will get missed and no name will be searched twice. There are lots of name directory's for each country.
|Date:||June 21st, 2007 07:14 pm (UTC)|| |
Hey, I've been following your story. This is really heartbreaking.
I have a suggestion -- it might be helpful if you make a new post for each update, instead of editing the old post. That way the people who have added you as a friend can see the new info on their friends page instead of having to come here to see updates.
There are a couple of reasons why I haven't done what you've suggested:
1) When I started, I didn't expect a single post and update would turn into what it has, so I didn't plan ahead too well. Having started with this method and provided a very specific link (this entry only) to many, many websites and posters, I can't change the link without confusing people - even a simple "Now Go Here" link on the former posting page would lose some readers.
2) The forums would be spread out over dozens of updates, so people wouldn't be able to read what has and hasn't been said before in one easy location.
3) Each entry would have to have the photo and specific details repeated (at least in the first month until we had the official website up).
In essence, LiveJournal isn't the best mechanism for what we are now trying to accomplish, though it would have been much more suitable had I understood what I was getting into when I started and planned accordingly.
And of the thousands of people who have read this page, only a few dozen have Live Journal accounts, so changing everything now wouldn't benefit enough people to be worth the effort and confusion.
That being said, I'm often quite tempted as the "April 22nd" date on the main page confuses people, and each entry would load much faster if it were smaller and had fewer comments.
|Date:||June 22nd, 2007 09:07 pm (UTC)|| |
Hi Matt and Family
I've been following this since the first post and randomly, just now I've run into a Yahoo story about this here:
I'm not sure if you know about it, I just found it myself. I read Yahoo news daily and never saw it on there till bringing up a Yahoo search engine (out of a bunch of Syrian search engines) and searching for "Vienneau" just to give it a shot.
P.S. The spreadsheet info I sent you for Ms. Lu, many entries don't have telephone numbers. I've looked at the three that match the birthdate of 1950 and can't find telephone numbers for them online anywhere, unfortunately. :( I'm sorry.
|Date:||June 23rd, 2007 03:38 pm (UTC)|| |
Re: Hi Matt and Family
This is a copy of the Canadian Press article from a few weeks ago. It's sent out on the wire and news agencies across Canada (and apparently around the world) can pick up the stories and publish them. It's good to see that it was picked up by Yahoo - a bit more exposure never hurts.