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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(*The blog is no longer being updated regularly due to the civil war in Syria.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:July 3rd, 2008 02:21 pm (UTC)

Hoping

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Another stranger who logs on regularly to check for updates. Keep the faith, Nicole is lucky to have you as a brother.

Melbourne, Australia.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 9th, 2008 02:15 am (UTC)

Your post today

(Link)
Hi Matt, I can certainly understand your emotions being all over the place. As far as the story that you cited re the father finding his son after 6 weeks and then having the son die in his arms.....as a mother, I think there would be a peace in having your child in your arms and the child knowing that you never gave up. Having said that, I will continue to pray that you and your family are reunited with Nicole in the very best of scenerios.

Take care!
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 9th, 2008 12:28 pm (UTC)

Reward offer info on website

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Hi Matt,

I just dropped by on an update on your search (I am glad you keep posting), and I noticed what appears to be outdated information on the main website:

Reward Offer of up to 1,000,000 Syrian pounds has been extended to March 31, 2008.

As that date has passed, readers might wonder if it was still available or not. Probably just an oversight, but thought I would let you know.

My heart and hopes remain with you.

Roberta
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:July 24th, 2008 01:50 am (UTC)

Re: Reward offer info on website

(Link)

All fixed.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 19th, 2008 01:07 am (UTC)

Another post on Sex trade/trafficking

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Matt,

I can tell by your tone that you are beyond exhausted. I can tell that your family feels out of options and you are resigning (have resigned) yourself that she is dead. However, as has been discussed in the comments, I believe you need to find a way to check into the sex trafficking in the region. I know this could be a worse thought for you than if she were dead but many survive this type of scenario ...it is not necessarily a brutal deranged type of situation as we think of here in the USA/Canada when someone is kidnapped usually by a psycho. In this region, criminal gangs seem to kidnap and sell for profit. http://www.gvnet.com/humantrafficking/Syria.htm. She could very well have been kidnapped and sold to a brothel somewhere. She is a tough girl, she would manage.

I think that you need to take a breather and let us work together to start working this angle.

Flyers in refugee camps might be a way to go. The reward you are offering might not tempt the traffickers themselves but a lower level person that is in poverty in the camp might know something.

You also need to use a forum board where various people helping can contribute and talk with each other in one location. If you want, I can make you a board to use on my forum. It is populated by people who also hang on LP Thorntree so it might be helpful but is not affiliated with them. www.ttrefuge.com

Just let me know if you want me to do that.

SkyP
From:(Anonymous)
Date:August 2nd, 2008 05:47 pm (UTC)

thinking of you all

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these stories make me hold my kids a little tighter...keep looking and good luck with all you do. I'm so sorry.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:August 16th, 2008 12:48 am (UTC)

donations

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Matt,
I just received your Mom's thank you for our donation. I wish I had thought to include a "no need to respond or say thank you " to my donation.

Although for me, it was great to hear from your mother, I realized what a drain this must be for her.

Please say hi to her from me and Rod and tell her that all of you remain in our thoughts and prayers.

With our prayers for Nicole's return,

Elaine and Rod Groom
From:(Anonymous)
Date:August 20th, 2008 03:35 am (UTC)

your post today

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Matt,
Just read your post and have to say...stop beating yourself. My daughter is an only child. She would be proud to have a brother like you. You have done more than enough and you have a right to stop (or let things slide!). I cannot stress enough how much, those of us on the outside, applaud you and your family. I can only hope that given a similar situation, I would find your strength and perserverence.

Go on as long as you can but please never feel guilty for stopping. You are engaged, will be getting married and perhaps having children. My bet is Nicole would want that for you.

Take care and remember that you are in our prayers and thoughts.

Rod and Elaine Groom
From:(Anonymous)
Date:August 24th, 2008 12:19 am (UTC)

www.texasequusearch.org

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Have you tried getting in touch with the Texas based Equusearch team? While they are American, they might be able to assist in some fashion. There website is http://www.texasequusearch.org/.

-Rob
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:September 9th, 2008 12:59 am (UTC)

Re: www.texasequusearch.org

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Being American is a significant barrier - there's almost nothing Americans can do in or with Syria from what I understand.

In June 2007 we investigated bringing over a search and rescue team with dogs, and the price was prohibitive with an extremely small chance of success, especially given the unfamiliar terrain, climate and culture. Unfortunately, I don't there's a good way around these barriers.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 19th, 2008 02:25 pm (UTC)

How to watch the Program you mentioned on T.V

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You could watch that T.V show you talked about by subscribing with a Satellite company. The company will place a small satellite on your balcony and give you a receiver. You will then get the Syrian Space Channel which holds that program. But the program is in Arabic anyways. However it had found lots of missing people and connected them back with their families. It is very successful because it plays on the emotions aspect.
From:thassan
Date:September 23rd, 2008 07:22 pm (UTC)

Nicole personal items Show on a syrian website

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Fellow syrians,

I've added Nicole's pictures and her personal items on
my site "http://www.syria-mobile.com" those pictures are the same of
the site "http://www.findnicolevienneau.com/" I just posted the pictures along
with Matt email and the reward in Arabic so more people can read it...

I hope that this will help ...

T.H
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 24th, 2008 07:47 am (UTC)

Re: Nicole personal items Show on a syrian website

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People like You "Thassan" are the real treasure of Syria. I'm Syrian living in Canada and I'm proud of your help and I wish I was in Syria to help with anything. I'm also sad because I know that these accidents don't usually happen in Syria the country of culture and safety. Anyhow, this could happen anywhere and thanks for all Syrians within Syria helping to find Nicole. Lets show the world our real metal. God bless you all.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 24th, 2008 07:52 am (UTC)

I wish

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I just hope from all Syrians that are helping find Nicole within Syria to not ask for anything in return. This is not our habit and tradition. Please no one make use of the situation. Just making sure that is not happening and I know it isn't.
[User Picture]
From:stayfrostyy
Date:October 1st, 2008 03:38 am (UTC)
(Link)
Hi Matt,
I just logged into livejournal for the first time in over a year cause I felt I just needed to tell you that I'm still holding out hope for Nicole. I started reading your blog very soon after her disappearance and I haven't stopped. I don't know her or you or have any real connection to this situation other than stumbling upon it a year and a half ago and being a fellow Canadian. I always read your words and try and fathom what it would be like if one of my siblings went missing. You and your family are extremely strong and I cannot imagine the emotions you have to deal with every day, let alone on your wedding day. I wish your entire family could be there with you.
I know this message my seem like it's pointless or coming out of nowhere but I just wanted you to know that I still hope that your sister will be reunited with your family one day soon and I think that it's beyond incredible how much work your family has done to find her.
Congratulations on your wedding and for being such an amazing brother.
Bianca
From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 1st, 2008 04:37 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I also have been following your journal. A person couldn't wish for a better brother or fiancee than you and Gary. Nicole was a very lucky girl to have two such compassionate men in her life.
Congratulations on your marriage!
From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 2nd, 2008 02:49 am (UTC)

Wishing you all the best on your wedding day

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Matt, There are no words to ease the pain of not having your father or sister at you wedding. Please enjoy you day, you know they would both want you to.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 3rd, 2008 12:19 am (UTC)

i,m sorry for u and for ur family

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first of all i,m sorry for u, i dont know but i just felt when i read the info of ur sister that,s someone from my family missing ,so i really wanna help u find her.
i dont know how but i,m asking u plz if there is group working here in syria i can do some help .
i,m from damas i can help u in my city and i got some friends and i think they love to help 2 .
so ummm i,m really sorry but i can say inshallah u will find her with no harm .
so i couldnt read all the things related about ur sister cuz as u see i,m not that good one in english , idont know i wanna to write millions of words but words cant express about feelings .
inshallah u will find nicole .
our hearts with u .
[User Picture]
From:pipercat99
Date:October 15th, 2008 05:36 am (UTC)
(Link)
Congratulations on your wedding!

You, Nicole and your family are in my thoughts and prayers daily.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:October 22nd, 2008 02:53 pm (UTC)

Still Hoping

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Just a quick note to let you know that I am one of many who check your entry every Wednesday morning. We are all hoping for the same thing for you and your family, that is closure. You need to be able to rest now and move on. Take care.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 5th, 2008 04:12 am (UTC)

If I can Help, Please don't hesitate to contact me :)

(Link)
Dear Sir/ Madam:

I am a licensed Private Investigator in the state of Florida. I have been a Private Investigator since 2000 and I operate Universal Investigations, a private Investigator Agency. I can speak, read and write Arabic fluently. In, 1996 I have completed law enforcement training in the State of Florida and earned a "Best Physical Performance Award". I have investigated civil and criminal cases as a Private Investigator. I have visited several middle eastern countries in order to accurately and thoroughly understand the Middle Eastern Culture. My email is MJ@22LAW.COM and I can be reached by calling 1-877-999-7715.

Please let me know If you need my help or assistance.


Det. Michael Joseph
www.22Law.com
Universal Investigation
Agency No. A2000180
4185 W. Lake Mary Blvd # 199
Lake Mary, FL 32746
1-877-999-7715 Office
407-999-7715
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 12th, 2008 03:36 am (UTC)

Donations

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Matt,

Just read your post about the donations. I hope some of them are from IOL people. I posted a message on a facebook IOL group so am hoping that some of those folks came through.

Also, please let your Mom know that I am retiring at the end of Nov. We used to talk about my daughter, you and Nicole a lot when we worked together.

You and your family are in our prayers each day. Take care,

Elaine & Rod Groom
[User Picture]
From:alysunrae
Date:November 26th, 2008 06:53 am (UTC)
(Link)
Still reading. Just realized my BlackBerry's T9 recognizes "Vienneau" from when I check your Tuesday updates.

Best to you and your family.

Allison
Chicago, IL, USA
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 26th, 2008 07:04 pm (UTC)
(Link)
We are also still reading. Stay strong and keep the faith that you will get an answer.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:December 10th, 2008 04:41 pm (UTC)

Happy Birthday Nicole

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Thank you Nicole's Mom for your post. Your words brought tears to my eyes and I can't begin to imagine your pain. Like I've shared with Matthew a few times, I don't know Nicole but I think of her and all of you often. Please don't ever think that no one is reading, no one is praying and no one is trying to rattle their brains to think of what stone has been left unturned. There are people thinking, praying and searching for your daughter. I'm one of those people. I know this year has brought hope and a new beginning to your family, with Matthew's marriage, I only hope for all of you that you can continue to have many more such occasions.
God Bless You All.
Jennifer
From:(Anonymous)
Date:December 10th, 2008 05:18 pm (UTC)

Still Reading

(Link)
I too am still reading the Tuesday updates. Everything that can be said, has been said so many times. As a mother I can only imagine your anguish. I hope that soon you will have closure.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:December 11th, 2008 03:58 am (UTC)
(Link)
I so feel Nicole's mother's pain but since I have not had this or a similar experience, that seems so empty. My family and I read weekly and will continue to pray for your family...we will also contribute what we can to the fund.

Remember many prayers are still being said.
(Deleted comment)
From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 25th, 2009 06:29 pm (UTC)

More Info

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Just saw your Jan 20th Post and it got me thinking too...

What items did she leave behind? From what I remember it was her passport, diary and some money?

If she normally carried these items, then seems most likely she was grabbed. If she was grabbed - would it of been inside or outside her hotel room? She could of been taken to another room or went initially to another room to meet friend in the hotel?

Her being kidnapped in the hotel seems difficult due to the number of people there, although her left belongings seem a mystery.

I've got another thought, are you 100% sure she came back in the evening? You saw she went out in the morning, but who said this? It sort of makes sense something would happen in the evening time the night before.

If she went out in the morning, yes perhaps she went out for something to eat and was taken then, probably by car...but surely people would of noticed? Also, why? Did she meet any locals?

Did you get a trace on the phone calls made in her hotel room? Or perhaps calls received in the room itself?

When was her last (failed) email message sent and what timeline does it relate to the date she went missing?

I'm not sure if this helps, but want to try to explore all areas rather than guess she went out in the morning and never came back....
From:(Anonymous)
Date:February 5th, 2009 03:39 am (UTC)

still listening and caring

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Hi Matt,

Just wanted to let you know that my family and I are still listening and caring and praying.....not just for Nicole but for you and your family.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:February 5th, 2009 03:31 pm (UTC)

Re: still listening and caring

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We are also still listening, reading and caring. Our hearts are still with you and all of Nicole's loved ones.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:February 26th, 2009 01:03 am (UTC)
(Link)
I'll post about this today, as two people have recently mentioned this possibility.

It would be very risky for a foreigner to commit a capital crime in a police state like Syria. No one wants to risk being put into a Syrian prison - there are a lot nicer places to commit crimes.

Foreigners would also stand out ridiculously, so there is no secrecy, and they wouldn't have any idea of how things work unless they've been living there. If they live there, the police are checking in on them every so often (though not as frequently as we would like in the case of Nicole!)

The Syrians also have a great incentive to show that this was committed by a foreigner. The Cairo Hotel would much prefer that this be solved and attention re-directed from their establishment - if they suspected a foreigner, they would have told us and/or the police.

It's not impossible, but we have so few resources for following up on that angle, that we have to stick with the more likely situation and see what we can find. Similarly, if Nicole was smuggled out of the country, we have no way of finding her without some kind of lead within Syria to tell us where to start looking.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:February 7th, 2009 04:57 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I was reading Cairo Hotel Reviews, and one traveler mentioned this: "The strangely titled Cairo Hotel in Hama is an exception though. Not only does it cater for the budget traveller with spartan though clean rooms, the amiable owners of the place are also happy to hook you up with any of their tours. You can see almost all of Syria (and Lebanon) by simply booking tours from hotel Cairo. And a tour in this case basically means driving around in style, with a 40-year old Mercedes and a private driver."
When you visited Syria, did the Hotel let you speak with all of their "private drivers"? Is it possible that she booked a tour through the hotel?
From:(Anonymous)
Date:February 7th, 2009 05:10 pm (UTC)
(Link)
the same person also has a journal of his trip to syria online. He seems to have been there a few weeks before nicole. He writes about the enourmous hospitality of the syrians. He visited Qasr Ibn Wardan and mentioned this: "Since we were about the only visitors today the caretaker was kind enough to open the gate to the chapel for us to wander about, something which is normally off limits for visitors!"
maybe they did the same for nicole?
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