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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(*The blog is no longer being updated regularly due to the civil war in Syria.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:May 13th, 2007 07:38 am (UTC)

I pry for Nicole

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I was reading every update you do in this site regarding Nicole.
A month ago we had 2 Russians get lost in Jordan one been found after 3 hours of intensive search and the other only after 6 days. They been in Hamamat Main walking in the Wadi (canyon) and we had in that day heavy rains in the high lands and the 2 persons didn't realize that they are in danger, within few minutes the flood came and take them away for a long distance from the place they been.
This could happened in the Syria as well.
Another thing there is forest as I can see from google earth within 16 Km from the place she despaired could be possibility that she get lost in that please as well.
Also ask the locals if there are some caves within the area, from my experience with working with tourist they get very attracted to get to these caves and may get stuck in them.
I am reading your updates daily and prying to get the good news by finding Nicole.


From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 13th, 2007 12:30 pm (UTC)

I don't think she's kidnapped

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Hello, I felt so sorry when I read about Nicole, I hope she comes out safe and alive. I live in Damascus and I don't think she is kidnapped because we don't have this thing in Syria. I just fear that she might have stumbled and fell in a deserted area, but I really pray she is OK and hope you find her soon.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 13th, 2007 05:26 pm (UTC)

All syria people with you

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Hello ,we are sorry about your sister and we will search about it
if we found any information about him ,we will send it to you
the god with you
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 14th, 2007 11:32 am (UTC)
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I really wish she is safe , and return to you in the near future.
but in that area where did she go there were a great flood and a very bad weather .
read this ( in arabic)http://www.syria-news.com/readnews.php?sy_seq=53526
our hearts are with you
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 16th, 2007 06:49 pm (UTC)
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This was at the end of April according to the article. The location is Palmyra which is not close to Hama.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 14th, 2007 11:47 am (UTC)

Hope you will find your sister very soon

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Hello,

My name is Osama,I live Syria Damascus... I am really sorry for this.. I just want to pray and ask God that she will be okay.

Osama
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 15th, 2007 07:28 am (UTC)

We all must helpful

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Dears ....
I'm An Eng. Alaa Eldeen Nakshy
E.mail: alaa77n@hotmail.com
We are in syria so sad about this news, and we all must be ready to provide all possible help till we can find Nicole Vienneau ...
God help us to find here ,And Hope we can do anything with good people here to find here ...
best regards
look to hear about good news
Great thank's for any one who do anything or any effort in like this humanitarian work ...

From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 15th, 2007 07:59 pm (UTC)

Could Someone have followed her since she entered?

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Hi Matt,

God willing you find some good news soon. Could someone have followed her from another location in Syria? Since entering the country? What about talking to people at other hotels she stayed at, or other places along the route, including the place she entered the country. Could they check to see if anyone who maybe entered the country around the same time also stayed in any nearby hotels, or the same one? Or if anyone she could have had contact with also showed up in Hama that day? I think it would be helpful to talk to a police source in how to investigate leads - hire a detective etc.

From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 16th, 2007 05:46 pm (UTC)

Maybe you've done this already, but...

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http://www.peoplefinders.com/order.asp?1=BARBARA;;T;;LU;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;341110124;;&2=name&3=people&4=1&5=barbara;;;;lu;;;;;;;;;;;;57&rc=1

From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 17th, 2007 12:15 am (UTC)

about the three persons

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I have followed your search on a daily basis and I hope you will find her soon.

As for the other travelers: The "Lu" names sound like Asian origin. Did the hotel staff say something about nationalities? From my time backpacking I know there are people from all over the world and the "Mardis Fukse" could also be a German "Martin Fuchs".
When I traveled (10 yrs ago) we used AMEX traveller checks. To get money you have to leave your passport number and name. Maybe they have checked out money in Syria. Probably local exchange bureaus or syrian banks could help checking money transfers in that time from people with similar names. Maybe Syrian police can trigger such an investigation. Maybe AMEX can help locating those people.

All the best!
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 17th, 2007 03:59 am (UTC)

Re: about the three persons

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Was it a male name? could Mardis have been Meredith? (in Syria there is no "th", they pronounce it as 's' (like the French).
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 17th, 2007 01:28 am (UTC)

Last Name Suggestion for "Mardis Fukse" and Info Question about 3 people

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Looking at the name, it is possible that the last name may be Fuchs . Just a thought. Do you have information on where the three people you are looking for are from originally? This may help anyone doing net searches to narrow it down.

Jess
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 17th, 2007 10:56 am (UTC)

Expand your search to rest of Syria

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Is it possible that she might have gotten into a car with people she trusted and they took her somewhere else where they got in trouble? This is a possibility. I think you should expand your search to the rest of Syria by going to the Syrian media.

Good luck
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 17th, 2007 11:15 am (UTC)

Re: Expand your search to rest of Syria

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I think you are wasting your time with the Canadian media. Focus on the Syrian media while you are in Syria.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 17th, 2007 11:13 am (UTC)

Get the FBI involved

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If hte 3 are Americans and the Syrian government will give you their passport numbers, you should get the FBI involved to find them. WHo knows, perhaps they have disappeared with Nicole too. If they haven't, they might be able to give you very valuable information. (I would be very surprised if CSIS hasn't done that already though).
Good luck.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 17th, 2007 01:26 pm (UTC)

Quick Question

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Hello Matt,

I must ask kindly, the information you have about the three travelers, are you 100% sure they are definitely American?

I only ask because when doing searches online, I am finding several Catherine Lu's who are Canadian (this would give Nicole a common bond with other travelers in the way of Nationality) and just want to be sure that none of them would be the Catherine you are looking for. Thank you again!

Jess
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From:vienneau
Date:May 17th, 2007 05:23 pm (UTC)

Re: Quick Question

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We have their passport numbers, so they are definitely American. But that does not rule out their living in Canada. It was apparently a mother-daughter if that helps.

The Catherine Lu at McGill is not the correct person - we checked. Let me know if you find anyone else who is a likely candidate.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 17th, 2007 03:42 pm (UTC)

check it!

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http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6651793.stm

some things you don't hear in news!
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 17th, 2007 08:26 pm (UTC)

Re:

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honestly, i think the british embassy is the responsable here, they ask syrian authorities to do that in syria, so the british people don't know about it. as soon as a british person becomes muslim, and goes out of britain, he becomes a "terrorism suspect". and he'll be interrogated in the country he goes to following the request of britain.
Re: check it! - (Anonymous) - Expand
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 17th, 2007 04:12 pm (UTC)

follow up on check it!

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more i research more i find dirt,she might not be the first one after all,try contacting those vicitms,and ask what really went on?

http://www.thelocal.se/7070/20070421/
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From:vienneau
Date:May 17th, 2007 05:05 pm (UTC)

Re: follow up on check it!

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We are aware of the Swedish situation and it is not similar to this one (as per the Swedish government and various "in-the-know" informants)

The British situation just came up this past weekend. We haven't heard anything on that one but I haven't directed anyone to investigate. I'll look into that.
From:kkb_ma
Date:May 17th, 2007 11:56 pm (UTC)

scent dogs?

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Matt, Do they have dogs there that could track her scent? If not, I would think there would definitely be some in Turkey, at least their military would have some anyway. Best of luck to you - I watch alot of the Law & Order and CSI shows, so I'll keep thinking about "detective stuff" for you. Best regards from MA, USA
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:May 18th, 2007 10:48 am (UTC)

Re: scent dogs?

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Our issue with dogs is that the trail is 6 weeks old and starts in the middle of a crowded city on a busy street. We've got her scent, but tracking it from there in a city that has recently flooded and is routinely covered in garbage and very rich smelling items means, as far as I know, that dogs would have great difficulty. I'm not a dog expert, but just one rain seems to foil them on television.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 18th, 2007 12:49 am (UTC)

Nicole's Boyfriend

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I know this seems petty but we do not think it is appropriate that you would make comments about ruling out Nicole's boyfreind as a suspect. We know him very well and love him dearly. Matt we know this is stressful and you must be exhausted but so must her boyfreind.

Have you thought of the possibilty of someone having followed her to Hama from her previous town/city? It might be worth looking at her past visits and actions to reveal her future visits and actions.

Our thoughts are with you both!
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 18th, 2007 02:10 am (UTC)

WOW

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As a Syrian, I haven't expected that the police would cooperate to this extent! Usually they are so aggressive and unrespectful with Syrians! I can see that just because you are a foreigner they rush into helping. I know that for I lived there for a long time. Probably they expect money from you as usual, though they are prohibited to accept bribe money from anyone.
I'm telling you man: if the Syrian police is cooperating, you are so lucky and you should continue exploiting it.
I wish I were with you to translate and help you as much as I can.
Good luck!

Syrian in the U.S.A.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 18th, 2007 05:32 am (UTC)

The Boyfriend

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"I was only able to rule Nicole's boyfriend out because he had already told me that the RCMP checked his passport to make sure he had never visited Syria. Of course, he could have made that up too...you see where this can lead?"

Matt I know this is a very difficult time for you, your family , the boyfriend and their friends. However to insinuate that the boyfriend might be involved in some way is insulting. He loves and cherishes her and is grieving deeply. I'm sure there isn't a moment that goes by that he doesn't think about her. Please be careful what you say in these difficult times as words can often hurt more than actions, PLEASE KEEP IN MIND "THE BOYFRIEND'S" FRIENDS & FAMILY READ THIS BLOG DAILY...

SINCERELY CONCERNED FRIENDS
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From:vienneau
Date:May 18th, 2007 11:17 am (UTC)

Re: The Boyfriend

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I've already responded in the main blog but I wanted to add here that the only reason it came to my mind is that Gary has been telling the story of his original report to the RCMP and how hew was immediately the suspect - they grilled him as much as they asked about Nicole. It has repeatedly come up in our conversations (and we've had a lot over this past week) that the first suspect is always the boyfriend/husband/ex-boyfriend/ex-husband and that it was perfectly natural for the RCMP to ask him these things.

Gary is not a suspect - neither are many of the others mentioned. As you say, he loves and cherishes Nicole and is grieving deeply.
Re: The Boyfriend - (Anonymous) - Expand
Re: The Boyfriend - (Anonymous) - Expand
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 18th, 2007 05:41 am (UTC)

Toughts and heart

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I've been reading your blog for a couple weeks now and it just caught my feelings for some reason. I admire your spirit and determination. You have a big heart. I hope you have luck in your continued search. I will keep your sister in my prayers for a safe return. Peace
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 18th, 2007 06:00 am (UTC)
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Where was she before she was in Hama? Is it possible she was befriended by someone at her previous hotel(s) who was going to be in Hama at the same time as she was? Did they make plans to visit the sames places? Did they plan to meet up? Have you checked the hotel's phone records? Did she receive any calls to her room the days leading up to her disapearance? Did she get any emails the few days prior? Is it possible this person rented a car and picked her up? Rental car records?
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:May 18th, 2007 11:11 am (UTC)
(Link)

We are checking for people she may have met prior to her disappearance. The hotel owner did not notice her talking to anyone else, but we have her journal and are following up on some leads.

There is no phone in her room. Backpackers don't tend to use the phone for local contacts - they'd just walk over to the person's room. There are only two hotels for backpackers in Hama and they're right next to each other.

We're asking about rental cars, but most cars are rented in Damascus, so it's a big task. And we need special letters from the RCMP to get into her email account, so we're looking into it.

Matt
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 18th, 2007 07:56 am (UTC)

The boyfriend

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I thought it was a good idea to keep the boyfriend as a suspect. It might hurt as friends and family to think of such a thing. But, looking at it from an outsider's prospective it seems smart.

I also think he doesn't REALLY consider the boyfriend a suspect. He was just commenting on the "can't trust anyone" nature of pre-meditated murder investigation.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 18th, 2007 06:58 pm (UTC)

what are the latest news??

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i am praying for you to find your sis, thanks for your noble feeling towards my country "syria"

actually we arent accustomed to such things like( disappearing) so i cant but pray and hope best luck to you both...

ray

lattakia
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From:mysticpickle
Date:May 18th, 2007 08:40 pm (UTC)

Your sister

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I am so sorry that you have not yet found her. I was refered to your story by a friend in Canada who's sister is currently back packing in Europe. I will pass along the message to all I know who might help. I know a couple of people who speak Arabic and might be willing to help with the translation but I can not agree completely on their behalf. I will contact them as soon as I am able and let you know what I have found out.
Best Wishes and Prayers to you and yours,
Alexis Grimes
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From:sloth10
Date:May 19th, 2007 03:35 am (UTC)
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i am praying for you and you sister! Stay strong!
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