The Beginning Of My Ascendance - My Sister, Nicole Vienneau, Has Gone Missing in Syria
My Sister, Nicole Vienneau, Has Gone Missing in Syria|
(*The blog is no longer being updated regularly due to the civil war in Syria. Should the situation change or any breakthroughs be achieved, I will post it here*)
My sister, Jacqueline "Nicole" Vienneau, a Canadian tourist, disappeared in Syria on Saturday, March 31st, 2007 at the age of 32. She was in her fifth month of a six-month solo adventure through West Africa and the Middle East. She was last seen by the desk clerk at 8:30 in the morning as she left the Cairo Hotel in Hama, two hours north of Damascus.
She definitely intended to return to the hotel as her backpack was left in her room along with the memory cards from her camera, full of photos. She also left her journals that include an entry made the night before she disappeared. Canadian police retrieved her Hotmail account email records indicating she attempted to login around 8:30 Friday night but was unable to (Syrian Internet connections are not reliable). Her last completed emails were sent Thursday night.
Nicole's guidebook was also left in her room. In the back of her Lonely Planet "Middle East" guidebook she wrote directions to a number of places in Syria that we believe she copied from the Cairo Hotel's copy of the Lonely Planet "Syria" guidebook. Nicole spoke with some guests about these locations earlier in the week and the hotel clerk indicated that on the morning she disappeared, she asked for directions to the "Beehive Houses", a local sightseeing destination, as well as Qasr Ibn Wardan (a nearby castle).
No one at these locations recalls seeing Nicole (and they are not heavily visited) and the Qasr Ibn Wardan logbook has a record of only one visitor, Amin Ben Yahia, a person of interest to us (b. 1984, Algerian/Swiss nationality, father is Abbas, mother is Monica) in hopes that he remembers something unusual about that day.
Nicole preferred taking local transit, but none of the minibus drivers or locals remembers seeing her. As a foreigner, Nicole stood out in all of Syria, but particularly in Hama where the majority of women in Hama dress in robes and cover their hair. The streets from the hotel to the minibus pick-up are main streets with lots of people, even at 8:30 in the morning.
In May 2007, I flew to Syria with Nicole's fiancé Gary to re-trace her steps and meet with police and local officials. Gary spent an additional two months criss-crossing Syria searching for clues. My mother joined Gary in Syria in July 2007 and met with the Grand Mufti as well as the Minister of the Interior. She also made a personal plea on Syrian television and we put ads in the newspapers and local flyers. Gary and my mother returned to Syria in April 2008 to raise awareness and follow up on leads with officials and the police.
My mother returned to Syria with Gary for a third visit in March 2009 and we continue to work with Syrian government and police officials on the investigation.
There is up to 2,250,000 Syrian pounds ($45,000) in reward money for information leading us to Nicole.
We are currently looking for other guests at the Cairo Hotel in case they spoke with Nicole. A list is at the bottom of this page.
For pictures of Nicole and what she was wearing when she disappeared, as well as relevant personal information and summaries of the search so far, please visit:
From the "official" website, you can also submit anonymous tips, view the picture gallery and download posters and Nicole's notes. Arabic versions of most pages are also available.
You can always email me directly and anonymously at email@example.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.
March 31st, 2012 (Afternoon):
Today marks five years since Nicole disappeared from the Cairo Hotel or in the vicinity in Hama. Despite five years of searching, we really have no new clues as to what has happened to her, though we strongly suspect one of the hotel staff was involved.
Syria today is very different from Syria of five years ago. There are certainly no tourists in Hama anymore, and there probably won't be any going there in the immediate future either.
Hollywood tells us that stories always have an ending, but unfortunately that's just not true. In those first few weeks we were so confident we'd figure out what happened. And then as each lead dried up the worry in the back of our minds increased, "what if we never find her?". That has turned out to be the case and we may end up being one of those families still searching 20 or 30 years later. You can never really give up.
An old friend of Nicole's has been putting huge amounts of effort into finding her. He's been posting on Twitter and updating a blog with details. You can read some updates here, here, and here.
Other people continue to offer suggestions and take action. It is very difficult to keep up hope after so much time has passed. All we need is one person who knows or suspects what happens to come to us, but they'll probably be in Syria and unlikely to have access to us anymore. Hopefully one day.
March 6th, 2012 (Afternoon):
Canada has withdrawn all diplomats and government staff from Syria. All Canadians have been urged to leave Syria. As per the official Government of Canada Travel Report:
"Civil unrest and demonstrations have been occurring in many Syrian cities since March 2011. There has been extensive use of force by the security forces and military in suppressing demonstrations across the country. Many casualties and fatalities have been reported and protests and violent repression are likely to continue. Security operations have involved the complete lock-down of entire towns for periods varying from a few days to a few weeks. This may take place with little warning."
Needless to say, our hopes of getting any information about what happened to Nicole have diminished greatly in the short term.
February 11th, 2012 (Morning):
Syria continues to be in the news as world opinion is slowly being swayed by the stories of what is happening. Once again, no progress on our search as we approach nearly five years since Nicole went missing. To think that at first I thought this could be resolved in five days or at worse, five weeks!
January 7th, 2012 (Afternoon):
Another month of chaos in Syria. In early 2011, the violence in Syria wasn't making the international news very frequently, but that has certainly changed. It is not surprising that we have heard nothing from Syrian officials, Canadian embassy officials, or our own contacts within Syria. This makes it difficult to move forward in the search.
( Click Here For Additional/Older Details...Collapse )
Current Mood: worried
Current Music: Gerard McMann - "Cry Little Sister"
Tags: jacqueline nicole vienneau missing syria
I can't even imagine how frustrating it is to have leads, like the guy who started a business with the money from the unidentified woman... and not have the Syrian police/gov't take a good, hard pressing look at it.
I really hope the election takes a back-seat and you are able to get government officials involved without the distraction of campaigning.
I was thinking that about Mariam as well... just the realm of possibilities... and wondering if they've taken a good look at the brother she was with just before. Not that I would think he would do something horrible to her, but perhaps he thought he was helping her by assisting her or hiding that she returned to Russia on her own to see a boyfriend/friend etc.
|Date:||October 18th, 2009 11:39 am (UTC)|| |
I am in the same position
my sister took off to london many months ago, and at the age of just 15, we have no idea where she has gone. it's like she's dissapeared. i am so sorry for your loss.
|Date:||October 24th, 2009 04:42 am (UTC)|| |
HAVE YOU ALREADY FOUND YOUR SISTER [NICOLE VIENNEAU]
THAT WAS MISSING? IF NOT YET, FOLLOW THIS INSTRUCTION:
SEND A MESSAGE TO THE PRESIDENT OF SYRIA,PRESIDENT BASHAR
USING MY NAME AND E-MAIL ADDRESS IN REGARDS TO YOUR SISTER..
I ALREADY SEND A MESSAGE TO HIM, JUST FOLLOW THAT UP..
|Date:||November 18th, 2009 02:53 pm (UTC)|| |
Updating on Nicole
I can feel your frustration, but is another country and can't really compare. Even if there was a "perfect investigation" you would always find things they could of done better.
Sorry to put this on a damp note, but was Nicole's photo distributed to the local morgues? Do they keep a database of "Jane Does" in Syria. It does sound morbid sorry, but maybe one avenue to check into to get some closure...
|Date:||November 20th, 2009 02:03 am (UTC)|| |
Re: Updating on Nicole
It's true, every investigation will have flaws.
The morgues have all been investigated. And every unidentified female body found in Syria is checked.
|Date:||December 9th, 2009 11:53 am (UTC)|| |
i suggest posting the story in the online news site "syria-news.com" prayers for her and your family. a photo of her should be posted to in the site with full details in arabic.... hama is a relatively small city and unveiled women would stand out in various areas there, but she could easily pass for a syrian too so i stress the importance of her photo because there is a general tendancy to assume that western forigners are blond and blue eyed.
i also suggest the arabic site should try to be more informative with the names of her aquaintences in arabic for example..unfortunately her dissapearance hasnt had much local coverage (which is typical for syria).
|Date:||December 17th, 2009 09:56 pm (UTC)|| |
Re: a syrian
it's been posted already on syria-news long time ago. here is the link: http://syria-news.com/readnews.php?sy_seq=54200
|Date:||December 27th, 2009 01:48 pm (UTC)|| |
If I could make a suggestion too, in order to get more people to notice your case, I think you need to contact people in the media too - perhaps famous Syrian (born) Canadians - you can wiki the list but I think Seinfield is one of them. Perhaps get them involved in an "anniversary".
Also why not mention your case to high profile Twitters like Ashton Kutcher...just needs a tweet from them and link to your site and get more people involved...
|Date:||December 31st, 2009 05:45 pm (UTC)|| |
Happy New Year
I just wanted to wish you and your family a very happy 2010. Full of luck and happiness. And may all your wishes come true.
|Date:||January 12th, 2010 04:28 pm (UTC)|| |
January 10, 2010 update
I've been following Nicole's story since you first posted the details to reddit a few weeks after she first disappeared.
In your last update you posted: "We traced the number to a South African phone number, which is a bit off the radar for where she might be."
I'm not sure if you are aware or not but South Africa is the location for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. If Nicole was kidnapped and sold to a human trafficking/prostitution ring it's quite conceivable that they could have moved her to South Africa in anticipation of the World Cup.
I'm sure you've done more to verify this latest "lead" than you have posted, but if not, don't write it off as another scam too quickly.
|Date:||January 13th, 2010 05:32 pm (UTC)|| |
Re: January 10, 2010 update
I happened to have just re-read the transcript of the final conversation between my mother and "Mike". Needless to say, it's very clear that he was a scam artist. One day I may post more information, but for now we want to keep our techniques for detecting extortionists to ourselves so that it's easier to catch them.
|Date:||January 12th, 2010 05:17 pm (UTC)|| |
I haven't read your posts in over a month now and so when the page opened and I saw your new photos of Nicole, I really was hoping for some news.
Your Mom's Birthday post brought me to tears. My heart continues to break for all of you.
I'm praying and hoping that this year is the year that you find Nicole.
Keep up the great work, I know it is discouraging and at times, it must feel hopeless but you are never alone and there are many people thinking of you, your Mom and Gary.
|Date:||February 1st, 2010 09:49 pm (UTC)|| |
So you don't have any locals digging for infos? I thought your team are locals or so. Your new Syrian contact is 100% right. It would be very helpful if you can get some minibus drivers working for you. I don't know how is your team working, but I'm almost sure if you pay the amount of money you are paying now for lawyers and your privet team, to some minibus drivers, you would get much more info. Because they are always in contact with locals, they hear stories, some of them have been working as drivers for more that 10 years and they know a lot.
|Date:||February 25th, 2010 05:21 am (UTC)|| |
Re: Minibuses drivers
Is a good idea, but paying money to unknowns doesn't make sense...is just luck. I would ask for people to search out of kindness, no financial reward.
Even highlighting this with the Syrian Tourism Board should yield results...no country wants bad PR...and this case really, really needs publicity.
|Date:||February 25th, 2010 05:19 am (UTC)|| |
Just read the latest update, did you check the Nicole's room door to see if it was scuffed/new lock/damage around the lock - it would give you an idea if the door was forced open.
So the scenarios are that she was either taken from her room (part of an assault/robbery) or left the room (no video camera in the lift/stairwells or hotel) and was taken outside?
I've been reading your frustrations with the Syrian police, so would suggest this...I think you need to get the hotel involved and let them do local investigation until they find her.
The hotel wouldn't want to be seen as an unsafe place where people could be taken/killed/robbed and any bad press from you would effect them greatly...don't take up too much responsibility and let others do the hard work...
|Date:||March 3rd, 2010 03:53 am (UTC)|| |
Re: Door Idea
We did check for damage around the door as well as whether the door was new. Gary and I both looked when we were in Syria in July 2007. Gary subsequently took pictures of the door.
The Hotel has not been particularly helpful. For example, they knew she was missing for a month but didn't do much more than supposedly report it to the police, though they have reasons for that (don't stick your nose into things).
|Date:||March 15th, 2010 01:23 pm (UTC)|| |
My heart breaks for the torture dfait and the priv comm have put you through
I read your article in the star today. I cried. The abuse your family
has gone through due to our faulty DFAIT and how they protect their butts at
the expense of Canadians. I had a dear friend die overseas and was met with nothing more
than abuse, ignorance and people at DFAIT and the Privacy Commission that blacked out, delayed and protected their backsides for their own stupid accusations. I got my info from the many leaks in the different branches as I was sick and still have no use for these overpaid gossip filled civil servants. I can tell you know that the portions missing are most likely parts of dialogue between workers but it could hold value for you.
Whenever I go overseas I write in my passport that if a problem occurs that I do not want the lazy civis to touch me.
My heart goes out to you but it seems we both have been shortchanged. Use your sources and do not give up your search. To rely on DFAIT will only cause you more grief. They have a lot to hide. I have heard the same lines you were given and I truly wish you peace and find your loved one.
Rely on other sources and my prayers are with your family. Text done on iPhone.
|Date:||March 16th, 2010 02:23 am (UTC)|| |
Media attention this week
Matt, I am so glad to see that Nicole is getting so much media attention this week. About bloody time and thanks to the efforts of you,your family and friends. My husband heard your interview on 680 news today. I sure hope this attention generates more information regarding Nicole.
Please let all of us Canadians out here know how we can make our voices and support of your family known....is there any government email address that I can sent email to etc.?
Elaine & Rod Groom (ex co-worker of your mother's)
|Date:||March 29th, 2010 02:47 am (UTC)|| |
Re: Media attention this week
We are also glad to see all the media attention your case has been getting recently.
Stay strong and the very best to you and all Nicole's loved ones.
|Date:||March 16th, 2010 04:00 am (UTC)|| |
Matt, this may sound 'out there' but is it possible that Nicole was working under cover for a government agency? CSIS? May be the reason for information not being released to you.
This has been suggested as a possible reason for why Nicole would have been "taken". And the Syrian political police have apparently investigated as well. But our understanding is that they investigated as soon as she disappeared, decided she was not political, and then ignored that she was missing (so we didn't find out for several more weeks).
Nicole was not working for CSIS. We're sure of that.
We know roughly what's in the information that isn't being released and it's not intelligence information. It's being held for privacy reasons and "don't share other government police information" reasons.
|Date:||April 20th, 2010 11:21 pm (UTC)|| |
Hama city express her Sympathy to the family
Hay Matt, as a Syrian and from Hama city I wanted to express our sympathy, we pray for Nicole, you are always welcome to Syria and to Hama city, to see and touch that by your self, and you will see that every single person in the city heard your sister’s story, and wish to help finding her.
|Date:||April 24th, 2010 09:10 pm (UTC)|| |
Re: Hama city express her Sympathy to the family
Such kind words. I'm sure the people of Hama feel as any one of us felt when we heard of a young woman going missing.
We still keep hpe alive for her return.
|Date:||May 28th, 2010 08:21 pm (UTC)|| |
I posted a thought in the "tips" section of your actual website. Since I don't know if you still check that on a regular basis I thought I'd let you know on here as well.
The "tips" should all be forwarded to an email address that I just checked but I couldn't see anything there. Can you re-send it directly to firstname.lastname@example.org?
|Date:||June 25th, 2010 06:42 am (UTC)|| |
Just wanted to say..
I am simply just a fellow Canadian, but I have have and will never forget Nicole and your family. I think of her often. When I read about her story, and she her pictures, I wish I knew her, I wish I lived the way she has, she is something to really aspire too. I check this site on a regular basis, and I am thrilled to see that Matt is still working as hard as ever. Gives me hope. There are very good people in this world.
|Date:||July 18th, 2010 07:16 am (UTC)|| |
Other Foreign Backpackers at Cairo Hotel
Forgive me if this has been asked or answered but have you had success contacting the other backpackers staying at the Cairo Hotel or other hotels in Hama? Have investigators matched hotel records with hotels in Aleppo/Hims/Palmyra/Damascus to see where these people travelled to after departing Hama? Maybe these hotels have better record recording of guests which might help locate them...?
|Date:||July 18th, 2010 07:52 pm (UTC)|| |
Re: Other Foreign Backpackers at Cairo Hotel
We contacted many of the guests at the Cairo Hotel and other hotels in Hama and Palmyra where Nicole stayed prior to arriving in Hama. Some of the guests have been able to provide useful information, but most have no memory of Nicole (understandably).
|Date:||July 26th, 2010 11:37 pm (UTC)|| |
I am sorry for the disappearance of your sister. I came back from Syria only 1 week ago, and it is a dangerous place. I went there alone as a female traveller and had a very bad experience with a taxidriver. I am still not sure if the hotel manager was in on it. When I took a van from Beyrouth to Damascus, the driver separated me from the other passengers by badmouthing me and then tried to get rid of the other two Westerners on the bus, in order to take me to some unknown destination (he said the bus was not to Damascus anymore). It felt like you can easily "disappear" in Syria, as there are networks of people working together. I got back to the hotel manager who had dropped me off at the bus station and he immediately wnted the number to the hotel, which I didn't give him. There was a lot of talk about me being "haram" (not allowed, but also sort of dirty) and talk about money, and that was although I dressed modestly, covering legs and arms. By the grace of G-d, I managed to get off the bus outside of Damascus together with the other Westerners and with them go to a hotel no one knew I was staying at. The rest of my travels in Syria went ok, stayed in Damascus and visited Aleppo, but made sure to travel on "real" buses, run by companies.
I feel very lucky to be back home. I pray that nothing bad has happened to your sister.
My mom and I are interested in hearing more about your experience. Would you be able to email me directly at email@example.com?
|Date:||August 4th, 2010 07:36 am (UTC)|| |
I came upon your site by chance a few years ago and have never stopped hoping and praying for your family and Nicole's safe return. I just wanted to let you know that there are still people reading and hoping for the best.
You are an amazing brother.
|Date:||August 13th, 2010 05:34 pm (UTC)|| |
Matt, just read your announcement about your wife expecting, congrats! It feels like it was just yesterday that you guys were married. Still checking in and every time the browser opens to your page - I feel that glimmer of hope - that your status has been changed from "worried" to "relieved". You can never give up hope and when you feel like you are, look to your readers who continue to keep you all in mind and heart.
Hopefully that female commenter who posted recently about her scary experience has been able to provide more insight.
I can't help but wonder if the hotel knows more than what they've been sharing.
|Date:||September 9th, 2010 10:17 am (UTC)|| |
I was reading a story on Syria-news about a guy who killed his father's wife and who happened to be in Karnaz, a town near Hama, another incident happened there just a week before that, where a guy tried to rape and kill a 23 years old girl..Have you been in that town? i think its worth visiting since the crime rate is relatively high. Just a thought. http://syria-news.com/readnews.php?sy_seq=121387
|Date:||November 7th, 2010 10:48 pm (UTC)|| |
Congrats on the birth of your daughter
Am so glad to hear that she and mom are doing well!
|Date:||November 8th, 2010 03:28 pm (UTC)|| |
Congrats and all the best on the birth of your daughter! May her arrival help distract from some of the pain your family has been suffering for the past three years.
I have been following your blog since the beginning and am still hoping for Nicole's safe return.
I am so thrilled that you and your family have a very happy occasion to celebrate, instead of more heartbreak.
A very happy time indeed.
All the best,
Karen from Toronto
|Date:||November 10th, 2010 01:27 am (UTC)|| |
Im happy for you Matt, haven't checked in to this page for a little while but i kept coming back every other week since it was posted. My birthday is on the 29th so from now i'll light 2 candles when my birthday comes along in the future - One for each Nichole. I still hope for you buddy.
- Karl, Sweden