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The Beginning Of My Ascendance - My Sister, Nicole Vienneau, Has Gone Missing in Syria
April 22nd, 2007
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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(*The blog is no longer being updated regularly due to the civil war in Syria.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*)

Nicole

Summary        

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.

Nicole

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).

Nicole

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.

Nicole

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.

Nicole

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:

http://www.findnicolevienneau.com/

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 mattv99@hotmail.com

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.

Nicole

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.

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Current Mood: worriedworried
Current Music: Gerard McMann - "Cry Little Sister"
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:June 25th, 2007 07:02 pm (UTC)

Hotel Riad guest

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I have been following your quest to find your sister for the past two months. I checked over the Riad Hotel's guest list (Mar 31) and attempted to find a 'Kazaban' on Canada 411. The surname it seems does not exist anywhere in Canada But there is a "Kasaban" in Montreal. Perhaps worth a try.
Kanthasami Kasaban
690 Av Ogilvy
Montreal, QC H3N 1N5
(514) 271-6103
Good Luck!
From:(Anonymous)
Date:June 26th, 2007 05:44 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Just a quick mention in the New York Times, might spur on more interest:
http://travel.nytimes.com/2007/06/24/travel/24Syria.html?pagewanted=4&ei=5088&en=37fd7029b7c39b76&ex=1340337600&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss
From:(Anonymous)
Date:June 27th, 2007 05:09 pm (UTC)

hrmm

(Link)
Interesting that they mentioned Nicole's name in the article but did not link to the story further outside of that from what I can see. NY Times is weird. :\

No updates for a couple days, hope everything is still okay.

Jess
From:melissa1621
Date:June 27th, 2007 02:52 pm (UTC)

Please View Personal Email

(Link)
Dear Matt: Please kindly view your personal email, as I have sent a personal email regarding some type of support that may be time sensitive to your side that I would like to kindly assist with.

Melissa
From:(Anonymous)
Date:June 29th, 2007 06:34 am (UTC)

Helping by searching for one person

(Link)
Matt, thank you for posting the names of people from the hotels -- and for sharing each time someone has been located. This have given me insight into how I can personally help.

I have picked a name from the lists and have turned Sherlock Holmes on the internet....

If we all did this, I'm sure we'd find more people who may have seen Nicole that day.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:June 29th, 2007 06:37 am (UTC)

Re: Helping by searching for one person

(Link)
Oh, forgot to mention that the name I am searching for is Jessy Alexander, a Canadian.

And, in case it helps anyone thinking of doing the same, here is what I have posted in some online forums and such (feel free to copy and repurpose!):

We are seeking to locate Jessy Alexander who stayed in the Riad Hotel in Hama, Syria on or about April 1, 2007. Born in Canada in 1980, resides in Canada, holds a Canadian passport.

This is in relation to a missing persons case in Syria. Jessy stayed at the same hotel as Nicole Vienneau, the woman who has gone missing. Her family is anxious to speak with people she may have met in her travels, especially on the day she was last seen.
From:thassan
Date:July 1st, 2007 01:35 am (UTC)

Arabic website

(Link)
Dear Matt,

I'm waiting for another pages to translate,
Please feel free to send whatever you think needs translation.

bon courage...


regards
Thair.Hassan
From:thassan
Date:July 1st, 2007 07:31 pm (UTC)

I can help updaying/maintaining the site

(Link)
Dear Matt,

I can see how much work you already have despite maintaining the site
I can help you in updating the site to have it's Arabic version ready,
but you told me earlier that the site is borrowed from another company
If you provide me with access to it's c-panel I'll do the update myself
I know it might sound weired to give some stranger c-panel access,

but believe me I have access to many sites i already build like this

http://www.worldbioplants.com:2222/

I can see that until now you couldn't find the time to update the site
to Arabic, that's why I'm offering help.

If you feel you could trust me, here are some info that might break the ice:
my mobile phone no : 00963 933 599 475
my home phone no : 00963 11 662 4083
my resume can be found here:
http://www.rentacoder.com/RentACoder/SoftwareCoders/showBioInfo.asp?lngAuthorId=6460084

Please reply A.S.A.P

regards
Thair.Hassan
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 4th, 2007 01:56 am (UTC)

The Arabic translation

(Link)
The FAQ is translated well
The Can you help is uploaded incorrectly and cannot be read.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 11th, 2007 04:05 pm (UTC)

Virtual Tourist

(Link)
Hey Matt,

I have put your blog link and information on my Virtual Tourist page. We are number 18 on the site so it should generate some views. Don't bother responding, I know you are swamped. Just letting you know.

Megypt
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 11th, 2007 04:05 pm (UTC)

Virtual Tourist

(Link)
Hey Matt,

I have put your blog link and information on my Virtual Tourist page. We are number 18 on the site so it should generate some views. Don't bother responding, I know you are swamped. Just letting you know.

Megypt

Here is the link: http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/92cd3/
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 11th, 2007 05:57 pm (UTC)

Link to latest National Post article

(Link)
Hi Matt,

Found the link to Monday's article in the National Post:
http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/news/canada/story.html?id=0edca539-3d1b-4241-bbfe-8a9cdfa02669
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:July 12th, 2007 03:12 am (UTC)

Re: Link to latest National Post article

(Link)
Great job. I'm not sure why it doesn't show up when you search on "Vienneau". Search algorithms never seem to work right for me.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 13th, 2007 12:24 am (UTC)

Al-Watan article

(Link)
Here is where you can find Al-Watan article:
http://www.alwatan.sy/pdf/?isue=175

It is on the first page and there is a coloured picture of Nicole (bottom left)

Basically it says the following:

Title: One million pounds to whoever finds young canadian woman Nicole.

It is a strange case that never happened before in Syria. At the end of last March a young Canadian woman who's name is JNV disappeared. K.M, her mom, has come to Syria to look for her along with NV's fiancee G.S. and her husband B.M. Nicole was seen for the last time leaving a Hama hotel at 9:00 AM March 31. She planned a discovery trip around the area and left her belongings in the hotel but never came back in the evening.
The mother, Katherine, whom Al-Watan met in the house of the Canadian ambassador on her way back from hama, in a trip in which she failed to find out the fate of her daughter said:" my daugher disappeared after she left the hotel on a trip to Qasar Wardan and the forgotten cities" and noted that the family is very close and that she "is" [was] in daily contact with her daughter by e-mail and weekly over the phone. She said that Nicole loved Syria in every way: the people, the food and all the places. She called onto the Syrian people to help her in her search for Nicole and if anyone saw her or her belongings:her hat, her camera, her bag and anything related to her to call the Canadian Embassy in Syria or the family. She noted that the Syrian people are very concerned about the case and that the authorities are taking it very seriously but that this matter needs more effort. She said:" I will return to Syria if need be"
Nicole's fiancee said: I came with Mathew, Nicole's brother 2 months ago but we were unsuccessful. We need everyone to help and we need more information for our search. He said the family is close and his relationship with her is strong. He said his fiancee did not leave Syria as indicated by the Turkish authorities (?). He noted Nicole's previous trips with her brother and his wife and indicated that she liked to travel and discover new things and loves history. He indicated that he was in a daily contact with her thru e-mail in which she told him abour her movements. Her mom noted that she sent her e-mail from Africa and the remote areas she travelled to to tell her: Mom I just wanted to tell you I am alive.
Nicole wanted to visit Qasr Ibn Wardan east of Hama and near Ibn Wardan village that belongs to Al-Hamra district. Her mom noted that this is as indicated in her personal notes and that the family is not holding any information but what they know is limited.
The mom repeated many times her request to Syrian people to help and indicated that Nicole's friends have designed a poster to be distributed to search for her and find her. There is also a website with pictures of Nicole and that the family is offering one million pounds to whoever finds her.

That is it.
I hope this helps. Glad to be of assistance and good luck.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 13th, 2007 12:25 am (UTC)

Re: Al-Watan article

(Link)
This is word for word translation.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 13th, 2007 12:53 pm (UTC)

Updating the Quebec article

(Link)
Re: the article in the Quebec newspaper that doesn't mention the website or email address....
http://www.cyberpresse.ca/article/20070712/CPACTUALITES/70712090/1019/CPACTUALITES

You could probably contact the paper to ask them to include the contact info in the online version of the article.

Sorry, I don't speak French myself....
From:backpaak
Date:July 13th, 2007 07:06 pm (UTC)

Keep looking

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I'm so saddened by this story. Keep up the diggin! Once a backpacker, always a backpacker. My thoughts and heart are with you and your family as you continue this search. You'll find her.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 16th, 2007 12:39 pm (UTC)

Post in syria news today

(Link)
http://www.syria-news.com/readnews.php?sy_seq=58133
[User Picture]
From:somuchforhope
Date:July 16th, 2007 05:47 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Hey Matthew. I believe the castle in question (from Flickr) is Qalaat Sheizar - just off the road near Mhardeh, on the route to Apamea.

It could also be, however, Qalaat Barzeh, near Jisr al-Shaghur (much further northwest). I think this is less likely.
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:July 18th, 2007 12:52 am (UTC)
(Link)
Thank you very much - that confirms the one other suggestion we've received and tells me what I need to know. Since it's too the Northwest, Nicole would not likely have been heading in that direction as she had just visited Apamea the day before and hated to repeat travel.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 17th, 2007 09:25 am (UTC)

Carine Derick/De Rijck

(Link)
The name of the Belgian lady Carine is probably De Rijck and not Derick.
Saddly, De Rijck is a quite common name in Belgium and will not be usefull to find her.
Most of the Belgian people pays with Credit Card or through a travel agency and you may found more informations contacting the travel agency that has organised their holiday trip.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 18th, 2007 12:57 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Matt,

I have this deep, sincere feeling she's not even in Syria. I know you checked the borders and if she crossed over to Turkey and there was no luck there. But something tells me if she was abducted or kidnapped, her taker wouldnt do it and stay in Syria, let alone in Hama (it's too close for comfort).

With all these weeks going by and no sign of anyone seeing her/noticing her, it just seems too far fetched that she would still be in Syria or around the areas you're checking. I know it's the most sensible thing to do, but if i was abducting someone i would make sure to take them as far away from the place where i found them.

Now, that's just my guess...cause i cant imagine she got lost and i almost know for certain she didnt escape!

Have you ruled certain options out?! Have you investigated or read about what happens when someone goes missing?! What's been said?!


I am sorry if this post has caused you pain to think of the worst. I am just trying to help. I pray for the best!
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:July 19th, 2007 12:31 am (UTC)
(Link)

Syrian border controls are relatively good, though open at times to anyone with enough US currency. There is definitely a possibility that she was taken out of the country, but there's nothing we can do to follow up on that. We can't go into Lebanon or Iraq and randomly begin asking people, we need a lead or trail that points us in that direction and gives us a place to start.
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Expand
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 23rd, 2007 11:27 am (UTC)
(Link)
hi matt, i've been following your story and have even commented before. i've been thinking - i feel as if the clues and the story do not lay with syria, but maybe with someone she met, whether it be a fellow traveler or a member of the hotel staff. is it possible by reading her journal if you could tell if she had crossed paths with the same person more than once? what of the hotel staff? at this point, because of how rare this happens in syria - i think it's time to focus on the people she may have met..
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:July 23rd, 2007 10:08 pm (UTC)
(Link)

That's exactly what we've been doing with our search for all the various hotel guests that may have crossed Nicole's path, as well as the publishing of Nicole's itinerary http://www.findnicolevienneau.com/help.shtml) and asking for people to fill in the blanks or let us know whether they might have met her or been in the same area. The journals never use names and don't indicate any multiple meetings, unfortunately.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 26th, 2007 03:11 pm (UTC)

Losing Sleep

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I just saw the comment about losing sleep. This may be extreme. But you may want to try getting a prescription for Provigil(modafonil).
Here is an entertaining article about it.
http://archive.salon.com/mwt/feature/2004/11/12/provigil/index_np.html
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 28th, 2007 04:22 am (UTC)

Arabic translation

(Link)
Hello Matt,

Just a thought: I was in Syria 5 years ago and one thing I noticed is that they do not ensure construction sites are very safe. So there could be a hole in the middle of a sidewalk and it would be just open with nothing covering it. Could she have gotten into that sort of accident?
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:July 31st, 2007 01:09 am (UTC)

Re: Arabic translation

(Link)

An accident seems unlikely as there are people everywhere who would find her (presuming she was able to yell out, and hoping that if she couldn't, they would notice her before they filled the hole).

An intentional burial in a construction site is a much more worrisome possibility. Unfortunately, I don't know how to follow up on it, especially this late. We can only hope that someone who is involved wants to talk to us, either out of guilt or desire for the reward.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 28th, 2007 11:09 pm (UTC)

Im so sorry

(Link)
Dear Matt,
i just knew about the whole thing today and i feel terribly bad for you and your family , i am a syrian girl , i was really so surprised to hear that something like this happend in syria because its one of the safiest countries in the world if you review the polls , anyway , i wanna tell you to be almost sure that she is not kidnapped or anything like this , because these stuff dont usually happen in syria and because no one called you and asked for any money to bring her back .. i can only hope the best for you in finding her and pray that you do .
your sister's story is so heartbreaking and i dont know if i can help in anything but the least thing i can do is to publish the story on my personal website so that if anyone of the people i know can help in anything .

p.s. you can look in countries on syrian borders like jordan , lebanon ,or look more in turkey .
you can also check hospitals or police stations in hama , and i encourage you to check the ones in damascus too because she might have got lost and asked someone to take to damascus or mistakingly got into some bus going to damascus .


WISH YOU THE BEST OF LUCK FINDING HER
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 29th, 2007 05:01 am (UTC)

Info

(Link)
Hi Matt, I can feel the sadness in the latest post and my heart goes out for you...I've got some ideas.

I think the only person you can trust to get things done (following up leads etc.,) is only yourself. Why not just pack up and spend a year or two over there? Learn the language, culture and get further contacts in the country to help you.

The major news companies will pick up this story in time, as at the moment they maybe view the story as "Experienced traveller goes missing/runs away to country that's not well known". The news story should be about you and your family's efforts in finding your sister and doing everything you can to find her...gives the story a different spin, which they would be interested in.

Also, to those saying how safe Syria is, not kidnapped etc., the country might be safe but it only takes one individual with a warped mind to go against the norm.

Reading from the diary, it seems she frequently took car lifts - wouldn't it be safe to say that she would of taken another car lift than say walking along the street where more people could of recognised her and helped with this inquiry.

Don't the police have a list of suspects or have they not determined this is a criminal case?
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:July 29th, 2007 05:57 pm (UTC)

Re: Info

(Link)

I'm not sure heading over there for a year or two would work out too well. Not only would my mom lose two kids, I would lose my job, make life difficult for my live-in girlfriend, and risk it all being for nothing if she's not found or is no longer alive (which, unfortunately, is very likely at this point).

Gary looks like he may go this route, and I worry what it will do to him. Nicole would not have wanted us to ruin our lives if she cannot be rescued.

Nicole would only hitch a ride if necessary - she preferred not to do that for safety reasons. So if there's a site you can only access by car, and hitching is an option over "expensive" cab rides, she would consider hitching. The in-town walk is only 10 minutes, so there's no reason for her to hitch to the bus station. She might have hitched all the way to one of the sites, but she would have had to have arranged it ahead of time or negotiated with someone at the bus station in Hama. She wouldn't have accepted a random car on the street with an offer for a ride, and they would have no way of knowing where she wanted to go so it would look suspicious.

Maybe she stopped to buy fruit/water and the vendor was chatty and knew someone going that way who turned out to be bad? That's a scenario that just struck me. But again, it involves two people, spur of the moment decision to perform a criminal act, and no witnesses. Tricky to pull off.

The police have no suspects that they've told us about. There are no clues to lead us to suspects, unfortunately.
Re: Info - (Anonymous) - Expand
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 29th, 2007 01:01 pm (UTC)

New Articale

(Link)
Plz check this articale
http://www.syria-news.com/readnews.php?sy_seq=58876
God bring her safe.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 30th, 2007 01:11 am (UTC)

don't lose hope.

(Link)
Just letting you know that I still tune in to your blog everyday looking for positive news! I'm still wishing you, your sister, family & friends all the best. Sending more hope your way.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 30th, 2007 03:54 pm (UTC)

One dead girl found today in Syria

(Link)
The full story here:
http://www.syria-news.com/readnews.php?sy_seq=58967

It says that one girl with dark colored hair has been found dead in a big bag today. One man has found her on Damascus - Hims Highway.
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