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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(*The blog is no longer being updated regularly due to the civil war in Syria.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:February 10th, 2009 09:13 pm (UTC)
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gonna also throw out some additional thoughts about who could take her without her reluctance. What if it was a female or a child who were luring her away? I know the first thought is some dark shady character but this isn't often the case. It sounds more like someone she would either have met and felt comfortable enough with or someone she would see as vulnerable or harmless. An elderly person? a handicapped person?
I haven't come across this on your site so not sure if you have available Matthew, but do you think it would be useful to post a 'snapshot' of where the hotel was located in relation to the internet cafe and any other known locations for your viewers to review and maybe that could spark some more plausible scenarios? It would be a good visual aid nonetheless.
We're still reading and searching for you and your family!
Jennifer
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From:vienneau
Date:February 12th, 2009 11:59 pm (UTC)
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Good thinking.

In general, violent crime is almost always done by men (95% or so, I believe) so that's what we have concentrated on. And given the role of women in a conservative town like Hama, it seemed reasonable to stick with that. Nicole was pretty skeptical. In Egypt, everyone is constantly trying to hit you up for money or con you, and Nicole was quite comfortable with totally ignoring them - I would be surprised if she could be lured like that.

It definitely could have been an older man. Her journals speak of an encounter with a dirty old man while hitchhiking in Lebanon a week earlier. But that only works if he's offering a ride, and she wouldn't have accepted where we think she disappeared.

A visual aid is a good idea. Not sure how I'll put it together, but I'll try and think of something.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:February 13th, 2009 05:50 am (UTC)
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This (old) blog I just came across might have been brought to your attention already, but I wonder if Al-Jazeera ever aired a story on this?

http://www.travelblog.org/Middle-East/Syria/East/Palmyra/blog-162123.html

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From:vienneau
Date:February 26th, 2009 12:44 am (UTC)
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I had not read that blog before - I appreciate the link. I don't think Al-Jazeera ever reported on the story, but I'm not convinced the reporter was actually with that agency - she was likely one of the reporters that we've spoken with over the past two years.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:February 23rd, 2009 10:07 pm (UTC)

Hotmail account

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Have you still never gotten into her hotmail account? Hotmail accounts will deactivate and delete everything if not used after a period of time. Did you contact them to hold it? If you have not gotten into it, it is way past time to do so.
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From:vienneau
Date:February 26th, 2009 12:39 am (UTC)

Re: Hotmail account

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We accessed Nicole's account back in mid-2007 and downloaded all of her emails.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:February 26th, 2009 03:50 am (UTC)

just a note to say we still care

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Matt,

After all of this time, it is hard for me to come up with new words...

We still care and I cannot even start to imagine how hard this is on you and your family.

At some point (and i dont know when that will be) you need to accept what you cannot control and start enjoying life again..time to start your family and just keep Nicole in your heart.

I cannot be the one to tell you when to stop but I hope you find it in your heart soon...I know I would not want my brother to give up the rest of his life to find me. There has to be an end point.

I admire you greatly...take care of yourself.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:February 27th, 2009 06:58 am (UTC)

All Possibilities

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I've been following this case from the start (I've been giving you comments under Anonymous for a while - latest being the telephone in the hotel room).

I've just watched the film "Taken" so was inspired to write again. It seems she was taken by a form of transport, could of easily been bundled into a car whilst walking down an alley but then surely she would of dropped things? Perhaps it would of been good to focus on what things could of been in her purse at the time (designer mobile, special key chain..?) and then try to track those items. If she was taken in a rental car, was her photo shown in car rental shops?

Her passport is missing too? Sorry I can't find the page with the detailed info on.

There's always hope, no body has been found and there's no evidence that she was hurt in anyway or a random asked. The prospect of her being killed is something to be considered but surely she would be worth more to her captors alive than dead, then disposing of the body would be complex too for the chance of her being found.
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From:vienneau
Date:March 1st, 2009 05:15 pm (UTC)

Re: All Possibilities

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Her passport is missing - that never left her.

The list of what she was carrying is at the main site: http://www.findnicolevienneau.com/ but it doesn't list what was in her bag. We assumed that the bigger items would be easier to notice/find. I'll look into what else was in her bag and see what was identifiable.

I'll have to see "Taken", see what other ideas it might provide.

I don't think the rental shops would have seen Nicole - she wouldn't have rented the car and would not have calmly sat there while it was being returned. It's possible some of her stuff was left in a vehicle (criminals often aren't very bright) and in that case we hope they've seen the posters we've plastered Hama with, or otherwise thought it was unusual enough to follow up on.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:February 28th, 2009 04:19 am (UTC)
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Still reading and have been since very close to the beginning (having seen a posting on craigslist's travel forum while browsing for a European trip I took in August '07).

I assume you've seen this before but it would bother me if I didn't post it: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6651793.stm. I noticed that Amnesty International commented on the story. Have you been able to get them involved in your case at all? Maybe you could talk to the person who was kidnapped?

Best of luck to you. I am sorry you sound so jaded. You and your entire family are in my thoughts.

Chicago, IL, USA
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From:vienneau
Date:March 1st, 2009 05:08 pm (UTC)
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I do recall seeing that back in the very beginning. Because it's politically charged and in Damascus vs. Hama, we didn't follow up any further.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:March 4th, 2009 04:39 pm (UTC)

brainstorming session?

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Hi Matt - just throwing it out there - what about getting all your local Toronto readers and friends/family members together for a brainstorming session. People that just don't know Nicole but like those above who have posted or have written to you personally. I know it may seem like an odd suggestion but once people get together and start chatting, their network or contacts can add more value and people are more inclined to come up with more scenarios and remember someone that they know that could possibly help at a roundtable then just random site visits. I would come.
As well, I'm sure this goes without saying, that if someone were to try and use Nicole's passport, it would be flagged right and the proper channels would be notified and eventually that would mean you would be notified as well right? Maybe that is a key to one someone would want to take her and harm her, for her identity?
I know a lot of what I'm writing is stating the obvious. but sometimes we overlook the things that are right in front of us.
Jennifer
From:chungwong
Date:March 6th, 2009 02:44 am (UTC)

Encouragement

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An ancient Bedouin saying states, “The way to keep a trail alive is to walk on it.”
From:beentothemountain.blogspot.com
Date:March 29th, 2009 03:53 pm (UTC)

Re: Encouragement

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Through your story I personally have been so moved by the dedication both you and her friend Chung have given to find her. I too will continue to keep her story alive having encountered the dangers of travel myself I can empathise very much. Thinking of you all very much as the date of the two year anniversary of her disappearance approaches... thinking also of your Mother today as she visits Damascus. Eva
Re: Encouragement - (Anonymous) - Expand
From:(Anonymous)
Date:April 4th, 2009 01:15 pm (UTC)
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Matt, just wanted to say I've been keeping up with your search (&blog) since I read about Nicole in the month after her disappearance. I wish your mum & Gary the best of luck while in Syria, and hope the trip brings some answers, leads, or at the very least keeps the lines of communication and awareness open.
I'll be thinking of all of you, most especially Nicole.
:)
From:(Anonymous)
Date:April 17th, 2009 02:34 pm (UTC)
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i visited hama in syria some time ago i posted under the name wookiemeister on the lonely planet forums

have you read what i posted there??

(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Expand
From:(Anonymous)
Date:April 18th, 2009 04:10 pm (UTC)
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I was actually in Syria at this point as I was on a study tour from my University in England. I stayed at the Riad if you could add any further info regarding your sister. There were very few westerners at this point outside of Damascus. I will have to ask my friends who were located around Syria to check there photos just to see if they have any sightings.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 2nd, 2009 09:18 pm (UTC)

Henrik.

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Well im still checking in every once in a while since the very beginning. And as long as the page exist.

- Sweden.
Re: Henrik. - (Anonymous) - Expand
Re: Henrik. - (Anonymous) - Expand
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 13th, 2009 11:16 pm (UTC)

Still thinking of you.

(Link)
Just wanted to let you know that there are lots of us still checking in regularly, hoping and praying that there will be some break through.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 27th, 2009 04:36 am (UTC)
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I thought I'd follow up again (guy who wrote the post about the film Taken - btw did you see it?).

Do you have the same photo of Nicole that's in her passport? I know you've been posting pictures of her around, but since her passport is missing it's more than likely someone would of seen her photo in her passport. If you go over to Syria again, take the same passport photo with you and show that around too. (Get a copy from the Canadian Passport Office).

On the promotion side, could you make her photo bigger put it on a walking billboard with text and get someone to walk around the places she visited last? Getting the local involved would be great.

Finally, has there been any other news about recent kidnappings in Syria?

From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 2nd, 2009 03:22 pm (UTC)

Facebook?

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I have been following this for 2 years now. Nicole is often in my thoughts, as she is only a few years younger than myself.

Do you have a facebook page? I would highly recommend it. Keep the wall closed for comments....just make the page so others can follow!

Always in my thoughts,

From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 15th, 2009 04:48 am (UTC)

Another person who hasn't forgotten and checks in often

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Hi Matt,

I was at The Cairo Hotel about two weeks before Nicole, and wrote you a few times. I spent three weeks in Syria doing the same kind of thing Nicole was - female, alone, public transport, guidebook, backpack - and had not a single problem.

The comment above about the Qasr Ibn Wardan chapel- I think everyone gets to go inside it (just a way of showing hospitality to tourists making it seems like a big deal).

Took three different tours from the Hotel - rather expensive alone so always buddied up with other travellers.

At no point in time in Syria did I feel any fear. As a single female traveller people really noticed you; in the nicest possible way (men gave you their seats, women watched out for you in restaurants). So whatever happened was really off the radar of an experienced lone-tourist.

Just wanted to let you know that there are still many people around the world reading this, and keeping you and your family in their thoughts. Even my Mother reads from time -to-time ( as she's not very computer literate)!

With best wishes,

Therese

From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 16th, 2009 03:08 pm (UTC)

Adnan

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I am so sorry
I hope your sister back to her family soon
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 27th, 2009 06:03 pm (UTC)

best wishes and a suggestion about your updates

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Hi,
I've been following this post for more than a year and wish you all the best - I really hope that you are able to resolve things soon.

Quick suggestion: if you moved to a blog format (rather than writing everything in one post), followers could subscribe to your blog feed via RSS, and thus keep track of new posts without having to check every few weeks. This would make people more likely to keep track of things in case they can help in any way - without having to remember to check it manually.

Peter
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 30th, 2009 03:18 am (UTC)

still reading and hoping and praying

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Hi Matt,

I have read your posts from the very beginning of the search...just wanted to let you know that we are still reading and praying.

I had a dream last night that you posted that you had found all the answers...I truly wish that is the case very soon.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:August 24th, 2009 02:59 am (UTC)
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Matt,

You and your family have done so much. I am never sure what to say to you but will speak from the heart....I truly believe that Nicole would be so proud of you and your Mom and Gary and the rest of family...your love shines thru even your most frustrating moments...just wanted you to know that we are still listening and caring.

Elaine and Rod Groom
From:(Anonymous)
Date:August 28th, 2009 10:43 pm (UTC)

Still with you and in my thoughts

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Hi Matt,

I just wanted to offer you a word of hope and encouragement. Many of us are still with you and keeping Nicole and your family in our thoughts and prayers. If you have anything any of us need to do, even now, please let us know.

Jess J.
Florida
From:(Anonymous)
Date:August 30th, 2009 08:37 pm (UTC)

Still reading your posts..

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Hi i am from Syria and i've been reading your posts for 2 years..i travel a lot to many different cities in Syria (because of my job)..and i really like to help but don't know how or where to start. Maybe you can sum up the missing points/facts you like to know, so that the search would be easier. I know there are a lot of infos in your posts, but they are too long and confusing.

Anyway, i am really impressed of what you have done and that you didn't give up all this time.

Best Wishes.
Mohammad
Damascus - Syria
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 3rd, 2009 08:37 pm (UTC)

swiss man at Qasr ibn wardan

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sorry for posting again. But who was that Swiss man at Qasr ibn wardan on the 31th march? as i checked the list from Riad hotel,i couldn't find any Swiss at al Riad hotel..sorry in advance if you already mentioned this somewhere.

Regards
Mohammad.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 12th, 2009 03:22 am (UTC)

Your latest entry

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Matt, I dont know if you and your family have the energy to push for the Canadian government to do more for families in this type of situation. If you do, then let me know how I can help. I am retired and have time to help. I find it very infuriating that our government is doing so little.

Elaine Groom (retired IOL employee)
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 12th, 2009 07:21 pm (UTC)

is it time to mix it up

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Matt, It has been an unbelievable two and a half years for you and yours. The lack of help from our Federal Government and the RCMP has been reprehensible . If the time has come to shout - let us know... We have
kept our mouths shut for too long and if Nicole's return is not to be then lets do something to stop this from happening to next family who is faced with this heartbreak... Our voices are yours for the asking.
Elizabeth Purser
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 18th, 2009 06:53 pm (UTC)

Best wishes

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Best wishes for your brother's speedy recovery!!
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From:beach_angel05
Date:September 19th, 2009 12:56 am (UTC)
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Matt, I stumbled across your post about your sister on travelblog.org. I'll be keeping you and your family in my prayers. Stay strong, and hopefully you'll be able to find some answers to your questions soon. God Bless.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 23rd, 2009 10:22 pm (UTC)

Interpol

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Has Interpol been able to assist you in your search at all? (forgive me if something was mentioned about this)
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From:vienneau
Date:September 23rd, 2009 10:41 pm (UTC)

Re: Interpol

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Our understanding is that Interpol is more of a clearinghouse for various international investigations and persons/items of interest. We've put Nicole's information into Interpol's files (or the RCMP has) but we've never spoken to anyone "from" Interpol, if such people exist.
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