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The Beginning Of My Ascendance - My Sister, Nicole Vienneau, Has Gone Missing in Syria
April 22nd, 2007
10:59 am

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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(*The blog is no longer being updated regularly due to the civil war in Syria.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:October 19th, 2007 05:53 am (UTC)

Amine Benyahia

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You've probably already thought of this, but when I saw the same "Amine Benyahia" a few things occured to me: that it might be Amina (a common Arab female name) and the last name might be any variation of ben/bin yahia/yahya or possibly other spellings. Quick google searches on those names didn't yield anything.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 22nd, 2007 05:51 am (UTC)

Re: Amine Benyahia

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I was JUST coming to post the same thing!

Male: Amin, Ameen, Ayman, or even Amir,

Female: Amina, Aminah, Ameena, Ameenah, Amira, Amirah

Bin: Bin, Ben, Ibn (not a typo)

Yahia: Sounds more to me like Yahya. Other - Yahiya, Yahiyah, Yaheeya, Yaheeyah.

Note - between the Bin and the Yahia could be a dash or a space

Bin-Yahia, Bin Yahia,

From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 24th, 2007 02:59 am (UTC)

Another school of thought...

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If she hitch hiked, she would have put herself in the way of danger...Unfortunately (and I really mean "unfortunately" because I am a single woman who likes to travel) this would be the case anywhere in the world...When I am in a foreign country, I never even take a cab alone..
I think it is a long shot that the Syrian government would take revenge on your sister.
I wish you success..
From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 27th, 2007 07:39 pm (UTC)
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I was just wondering how you know that the Amine Benyahia you are looking for, is the same who was on that website? That person was in Switzerland, but maybe the person you are looking for either is that person but lives in Algeria (or somewhere else)now, or he is someone totally different who has nothing to do with Switzerland?
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 8th, 2007 11:27 am (UTC)

re 6th nov entry regarding Hama

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have sent email for your viewing
from Brit living in Syria
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 8th, 2007 07:05 pm (UTC)

Be Careful

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Matt,

Be careful when pursuing the Muslim Brotherhood links. This could get you banned from coming to Syria and it could cause a big problem for anyone who contacts you. I would not pursue this publically through your message board. You know about the incident that happened in Hama back in the 80's when the MB apparantly tried to do an assasination on Hafiz Al Assad and the town was surrounded and about 26,000 people killed right?

I am surprised you haven't somehow contacted the Iraqi refugee camps (be VERY careful). There are camps that are teeming (see Dennis Kuchinach (spelling?) video on his trip.)

Also, I really, really think you need to focus on pursuing what was mentioned before about sex slaves. FIND A WAY TO CONTACT ORGs. THAT DEAL WITH ESCAPED SEX SLAVES. TRY TO CONTACT BROTHELS AND THE LIKE TOO.

This is where you should be focused. It is unlikely that the Muslim Brotherhood kidnapped Nicole IMO. More likely it would be a group of sex slavers or Iraqi refugees.

I still feel that since NO ONE saw her outside of the hotel, you need to get forensics (somehow) to check out her room.

God willing she will come home alive.

From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 9th, 2007 12:01 am (UTC)

Muslim Brotherhood

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The Muslim Brotherhood is an extremist group that has done a lot of terrorist operations in Syria in the 80s and are hence outlawed and pursued and prosecuted wherever they are found. Trying to do business with them is a bad bad idea. Not only is this dangerous, but it will make the goverment very suspicious of you. They may even think your whole ordeal is a plot to get into Syria and cause them problems.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 10th, 2007 03:37 am (UTC)

Re: Muslim Brotherhood

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Absolutely agree. I wrote the post above called 'be careful'.

Matt, I think it is VERY unlikely that the MB took her. They are not into that kind of thing in Syria and trying to contact them is asking for problems with the Syrian govt. whom you want to keep on the good side of. The MB in Syria is a different situation than say the MB in Egypt which, although outlawed, is somewhat tolerated. Understand that the MB is persona non grata by the Syrian govt. and will indeed make them suspicious of you. Not to mention, because you are ..shall we say a novice in this area, you are likely to get ordinary Syrian people who have or want to help you in big trouble or more scared to help you. Please take this off your blog.

As I said, anyway, I don't think the MB would be involved - it is not their type of thing in Syria. As far as I know, they have not been known to do this at all.

IMO, as mentioned, your best bet by far is to pursue the sex slaver angle.

Do NOT pursue the MB angle - it will get you nowhere most likely except a big problem with the Syrian govt.

Seriously.

Take it off your blog and if there is more information later then you can think about pursuing that angle but right now, just throwing it up there like that is likely to cause you more problems. JEEZ!



From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 10th, 2007 03:45 am (UTC)

Jeez!

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Ok I just had to write again even though I just posted. You have no idea what you are doing in this area Matt. Geez!!!! This is insane. Take it off now.

Also the Egyptian MB and the Syrian are not really the same org. They just use the same names. If you don't even know this (and it is ok because why would you) then you are definitely NOT capable of pursuing this angle. Drop it. Also take off the thing about Hama because the SG doesn't like this to be mentioned. Good lord, I don't know who the heck is advising you but you need to contact some specialists in the Middle East which I assume you have but geez. If not, contact a local canadian university professor or something.

Drop it and then delete comments relating to it.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 10th, 2007 05:13 am (UTC)

Possible contact for sex trafficking

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Matt,

I am sorry if I seemed harsh in my last posts. It's just I don't want you to make a misstep and panicked a little. I am sure you have thought of all this though. I think we on the blog should start concentrating on the sex traffic angle and start locating sources. Nicole is a smart, sharp girl from hearing about her amazing life and travels. If she has been kidnapped for this then she will survive and do what she has to do to do so. Do not write her off for dead yet ok? Your posts have seemed to be reconciling yourself to this idea even though I know you always have hope and that is why you keep searching. I am proud of you. So proud. Don't give up.

Everyone, let us start working on this angle please (if Matt says ok).


Trafficked to Syria

The UAE is not the only destination for trafficked Iraqi women. Syria is increasingly becoming a popular destination for traffickers, according to humanitarian agencies.

A report released in May by the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), the UN’s Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) spoke of “organised networks dealing with the sex trade” in Syria. It made a correlation between the deteriorating conditions of Iraqi citizens and an increase in prostitution and trafficking of Iraqi sex workers.

"It is not possible to say how big the trafficking problem from Iraq to Syria is but we know it does exist," said Ann Maymann, a protection officer with UNHCR in Damascus. "It is something that has been kept quiet because people are afraid to talk about it."

Local activists in Syria say much more needs to be done to protect this vulnerable and increasingly exploited community.

Last September, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) co-hosted a workshop with the Ministry of Interior to raise awareness on counter-trafficking.

Maria Rumman, IOM chief of mission in Damascus, said the organisation was assisting a Syrian government committee established to draft a counter-trafficking law, and was waiting for international donor funds for a proposed shelter to assist victims of trafficking. Without such a facility, she said, surveying the number of people trafficked into Syria was impossible.

"The government agrees there is a need for new legislation and for a shelter," said Rumman. "But we have not received any reply from donors, including the US, for a year. The minute we have any donor commitment we will begin."

as/hm/sz/ed
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 13th, 2007 01:30 am (UTC)

pursuing the internet cafe

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I really think this is something you should investigate, it's too coincidental considering none of the other leads are turning up useful.
Best wishes, I keep Nicole in my thoughts.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 14th, 2007 07:49 am (UTC)

Have someone translate this - Urgent

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الحوادث


ألقت شرطة محافظة حماة على رجل ارتكب 30 جريمة ومحكوم بالسجن لمدة 25 عاما, بعد سنوات طويلة من الفرار.



وقالت صحيفة "الوطن" السورية إن الشرطة تمكنت من إلقاء القبض في إحدى قرى المحافظة على (م.سرحان.ف) المتهم بارتكاب 30 جريمة منها السلب والقتل وتجارة المخدرات والليرات الذهبية المزيفة، والآثار في ستة محافظات.

وأضافت الصحيفة أن الشرطة ضبطت مع المتهم الفار بندقية حربية كلاشنكوف عيار 7.62 ملم مع ثماني مذخرات و250 طلقة حية, ومسدس حربي نوع كولد أمريكي و42 طلقة حية, إضافة إلى قنبلة دفاعية.

Dear Matt, I dont wanna sound creepy, but I have read the above in a syrian journal today 14-11-07 Here's the link http://www.syria-news.com/index.php
It says that the syrian police, hama district, arrested a serial killer that has committed 30 crimes (killing, robbery, hold up , etc) so far.....
Better you call your contacts in Syria and check with the canadian embassy as well as any Syrian officials

From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 15th, 2007 06:18 am (UTC)

Re: Have someone translate this - Urgent

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Find the full link regarding M.Serhanh F

ttp://www.syria-news.com/readnews.php?sy_seq=65716
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 15th, 2007 01:27 am (UTC)

info on M.serhan F

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sent email... hope of some use. MW
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 17th, 2007 08:00 am (UTC)

Serial killer from 2004

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Well this is probably of no use but I thought I would post it. In addition to this, I remember reading somewhere about a serial killer in the hama area who targeted women with long brown hair (um, that is most of syria). Anyway, here is the bit from 2004. http://lonehighlander.blogspot.com/2004_08_01_archive.html

Like most Arab countries (apart from Saudi Arabia following the ‘liberation’ of Iraq) Syria is extremely safe. Where in the West can a woman go out wearing a lot of jewelry and not be bothered? I never felt and outsider, in fact that is the trademark of Arab countries, even in huge, sprawling Cairo or shaky Beirut I felt safe with my gold and diamonds and stuff. I really want to stress this safety part, because upon my arrival in late June, many of my friends warned me that I should drop the jewels and stop going out alone as women have been targeted and knifed lately, a group or one person it was rumoured was knifing them. I was devastated, if the legendary safety of women in one of my favourite part of the world was blown away then all was lost. There were many rumours and hearsay that first week: it was some thugs who had crossed the border from Iraq and they were forming gangs and targeting unveiled women, a fundamentalist group and many other stories. But the problem was that a woman with full hijab was also a victim, so what were we to believe? In fact the only common denominator between the victims was the fact that they were females, it did not matter weather they were blondes or brunettes, veiled or not, young or old. There was a serial killer on the loose and it was one person not a gang and he was using exactly the same method of attack. I did not really bother about the warning and one evening I went to visit some family friends at one of the Palestinian camps (I’ll talk about these in another post). I was telling them how I was disappointed about this safety situation, Damascus is one of the bastions of women safety for me I never felt this safe in Rome for example. My friends showed me that day’s newspaper, which I had failed to read, in which it was reported that the serial killer was apprehended and he was a young disturbed man who after being rejected by his fiancée had carried a grudge about women and was avenging his wounded ego in this way (such crimes are also common in the West right ? I read about them always in the popular dailies). Anyway the attacks stopped and my treasured safety was back, it was a false alarm, no rise of fundamentalism (that had been crushed 2 decades ago) and no Iraqi thugs (although I will talk about the Iraqi border another time also).
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 17th, 2007 09:18 am (UTC)

Re: Serial killer from 2004

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It's true that the area isn't as safe as it used to be.
I think that there is a limited amount one can do sitting behind a computer in North America, and it seems it has been mostly done at this point.
Perhaps, though, it might be helpful to go to Syria and visit the mosques in the Hama area (all the mosques if possible), asking the Imams to appeal to their congregations for information. Not just anyone who saw anything, but anyone who heard or suspects anything.
The Imams might not post a picture in their mosques, but there should be enough missing posters around that anyone can see them.
Probably an anonymous post office box and, possibly, an anonymous mobile phone number would be best in this case. Everyone in Syria knows the internet is monitored there.
The appeal would be best made by relatives, like a brother and mother. The concept of a long-time partner to whom one is not married is rather incompehensible to many observant Muslims, although the concept of fiance is not.
I wish you the best.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 19th, 2007 02:54 pm (UTC)
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Hi Matt!
I'm sure you already knew about this and investigated it, but in case you haven't i thought I'd let you know.
I found this article which was published in April 2007 concerning a 17 year old Swede who went missing a few weeks before Nicole. Maybe if you could find out more on what happened to her you could get some leads on Nicole.
http://www.thelocal.se/7070/20070421/
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 20th, 2007 06:29 am (UTC)

junk mail problem

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To resolve that junk mail problem you've been having I would suggest signing up for a gmail account(just to start fresh and also because it is a lot superior to hotmail). Then, post the email address on this page in the following format:

mattv99 [at] hotmail [dot] com

This would hopefully prevent the bots that are jumping from site to site from grabbing your email and adding it to their spam lists. And shouldn't stop anyone with half a brain from seeing how to contact you.

Best of luck in your search,
P.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 27th, 2007 11:19 pm (UTC)

Re travelers ins

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I know you have probably heard this but have you checked to see if she has travlers insurance. If she was injured the doctors would have billed the company.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:December 4th, 2007 01:49 pm (UTC)

Cdn Government officials

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Hi, Matt....you mentioned in earlier posts-I think October-that MP Dan McTeague(?) was meeting with Syrian reps. Also that some gov't official-possible the new Minister for Foreign affairs- was going to Syria and would inquire about the search. Did you ever hear anything back from them?
From:(Anonymous)
Date:December 6th, 2007 08:00 pm (UTC)

Birthday

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Happy Birthday Nicole.
-A concerned fellow Canadian.
[User Picture]
From:k5memo
Date:December 7th, 2007 05:58 am (UTC)
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Happy Birthday, Nicole.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:December 13th, 2007 01:39 am (UTC)

The president

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I know this might sound like a silly question but believe me in Syria that'll help beyond words:
Have you tried contacting the Syrian president? I know it's impossible easily reach him; but have you tried pushing in that direction?
From:(Anonymous)
Date:December 16th, 2007 01:35 pm (UTC)

Re: The president

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Since the Syrian president might be a little busy these days...how about trying to contact his wife instead..I think she probably has some influence by association. She seems like a smart and open minded person..she was raised in England and hence will be able to understand western mentality and where you are coming from. Good luck.
From:avenger34
Date:December 19th, 2007 09:10 am (UTC)
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Sorry to hear about your sister,if your out of options maybe think about going to a psychic who also specializes in locating missing persons.Police make use of psychics far more than they let on.

Best Regards
Aaron
From:(Anonymous)
Date:December 19th, 2007 12:34 pm (UTC)

benyahia

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hello, why are you looking for a. benyahia?? just because of his name??
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:December 20th, 2007 03:30 am (UTC)

Re: benyahia

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Amine Benyahia visited Qasr Ibn Wardan on the same day that my sister was supposed to have visited. We're hoping he might be able to tell us whether he saw anything that day, or noticed anything strange, or whether he has any information about Nicole.
From:98716573
Date:December 21st, 2007 07:23 pm (UTC)

a98716573@yahoo.com

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أخي مستعدين لمساعدتكم ولكن نريد شخص قريب لها على الأقل في سوريا لمدة إسبوع كي نقوم بالبحث بشكل منظم
أعتقد أنه لديك من يترجم العربية ...و لقد تم نشر صورتها ضمن سوريا وحتى الآن لم نجد شئ لأننا لا نستطيع البحث دون قريب لها ...
From:98716573
Date:December 21st, 2007 07:29 pm (UTC)

a98716573@yahoo.com

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Dear: we can help you. but we need someone like her mother Or her brother to Find Her .. After begin 2008
From:(Anonymous)
Date:December 27th, 2007 02:10 pm (UTC)

Prayers

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I am so sorry to read your story and your Christmas post. My heart breaks for your situation. I know nothing of what I could do but I have asked the Lord to bring you closure one way or another. I can only imagine the emotional struggle you are having and even with good imagination I know I can't fathom the depths of pain you must experience in this.

I would just like to offer a verse of scripture that has comforted me in many a trying moment. John 14:27 "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful."

I'm so sorry again... I wish there was something more I could do.

Sincerely,
Joe Orsak. Houston, TX.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 6th, 2008 02:51 am (UTC)

Re: Prayers

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Thank you so very, very ,much for your prayers for our Nicole.

From, a family member.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 13th, 2008 05:03 pm (UTC)

Nicole

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Our hearts and prayers are with Nicole. Nothing is too hard for our Lord.

May she return to her mother and loved ones and her fiance. She seems to be a very nice young woman, and deserves a good life.

One question though. Did you check if she crossed out of Syria again to Lebanon or Jordan... Please give it a thought to check the borders. God be with you.
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