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My Sister, Nicole Vienneau, Has Gone Missing in Syria - The Beginning Of My Ascendance Page 7
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(*The blog is no longer being updated regularly due to the civil war in Syria.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:May 6th, 2007 03:53 pm (UTC)

Just a thought...

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Hello, I've read everything you've posted here and I think you are doing a great job trying to pin point her every move. Something popped into my head because of a story I heard about years ago. Could she be in jail?...Is there any way you can check this out?... you never know, because the story that I'm thinking of is this girl who overstayed her visa by a single day and was tossed in...she wasn't allowed to contact anyone and no one knew where she was for months. Just a thought.
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:May 6th, 2007 03:59 pm (UTC)

Re: Just a thought...

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That is definitely a possibility, and one that we're hoping for because it means she's being fed and is alive.

Unfortunately, we now have confirmed that the Syrian police are actively looking for her, which suggests that she's not in prison. Her visa didn't expire until the 5th and she disappeared on the 31st, so that's also looking unlikely.

Thus the surreal hope that she's been kidnapped for some reason. A strange thing to be hoping for.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 6th, 2007 09:08 pm (UTC)

A Syrian friend

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First of all, I want to ask you to keep your worst thoughts away as Syrians are known to be very helpful and love receiving strangers. So in case she had gone through any trouble I am positive a lot of people over there are ready to help with pleasure.
Forget all those stupid terrorist comments...I live there and know what things are really like!
My question is: did you inform the authorities? As I don't think, random inquiries would help as much.
If I can be of any help on that level..will do my best
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:May 6th, 2007 09:56 pm (UTC)

Re: A Syrian friend

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Hello,

Surprisingly, all of our information so far has come from people on the Internet and doing our own research, there have been no breakthroughs via the police either in Canada or Syria.

That being said, the Syrian police were supposedly informed that she was missing almost a month ago. That would likely be the local police. The state police have definitely been informed now, and we really hope to hear from them in the next day or two.

The Syrians I've talked to have all been incredibly friendly and helpful. I've heard many good things about the kindness and hospitality of Syrians and that doesn't surprise me.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 7th, 2007 01:56 am (UTC)

Get to Syria!

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I don't think you are going to be able to accomplish much more from Canada? Wouldn't this justify getting over to Syria asap and tracking everything by foot and talking to as many people as possible?

I know the Syrian people for the most part are very helpful and friendly, and I can't imagine that the entire town wouldn't be scouring the hillsides for you, after a quick personal introduction.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 7th, 2007 11:41 am (UTC)

For those who feel helpless to know what to do

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I don't know Nicole; however the day my best friend told me she was missing my world has been a whirl of emails, letters and pleading with Syrians all over the world. I have made many friends that are out looking, shoving Nicole's lovely face into the faces of strangers in Syria. They are able to help because I contacted them. They have wanted to help because I CONTACTED THEM. There are 140 members in this group as of now. Many of you pray and express that you don’t know what to do. There is something you can do - join this group: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2218727175 and start posting on the walls about Nicole. There are over 2000 people in that group from Syria. I have managed to grab 4 of them. 1996 more to go! The more people that post concern, the more attention the Syrians will give us. Don’t be afraid to reach out, there is someone just waiting to take your hand.

Nicole is 32. So am I. She uses her middle name, Nicole as her first name; I use my middle name, Nicole as my last. She is adventurous through the world, I am adventurous through business. She loves Matt as her brother and since he started adoring my best friend, he has been my brother as well.

Just because you think you don’t know her, doesn’t mean that you actually don’t. Nicole is a woman, she is beautiful because she is, she is caring and she has a family that loves her, just like you do. You can change her life (and the life of her family) forever by thinking of ways to help. Email your friends, someone you know may have friends that have friends in Syria. Email your University or ANY university; there are language programs and people from Syria attending, guaranteed. Find a directory of companies in the Hama and Homs area online and print and mail posters directly to them, asking for their help. Write a letter to the embassy over there and urge them to do more. Print out posters and put them up in your neighbourhood. “ANYONE WITH SYRIAN CONTACTS PLEASE CONTACT MATT @ mattv99@hotmail.com. Don’t be afraid to look silly. You should see some of the ideas I’ve run past Matt! The man must think I am insane! But he doesn’t… he is thankful for anything you offer. He will be thankful for anything you can offer as well. Start by joining the All Syrians on Facebook (the above link) and letting them know there are so many of us that want Nicole home.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 7th, 2007 11:45 am (UTC)

Re: For those who feel helpless to know what to do

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140 people in the "facebook group" as of now. I missed a word, sorry about that.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 7th, 2007 12:40 pm (UTC)

Monday, May 7/07

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I heard your interview on CBC this morning. As well this morning, on the Today Show on MSNBC, interviewer Ann Curry (sp?) reported from Syria and had just done a 1 1/2 hour interview with the president. Can you contact the Today Show and see if you can reach Ann Curry to see if she can ask any questions on your sister's behalf? My prayers are with you and your sister.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 7th, 2007 02:06 pm (UTC)

Passing the word out to our networks

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Just read the article in the Toronto Star. Unfortunately I don't have any information, however many of my friends are travellers/international workers etc.. I have sent an email to my networks asking them to pass this journal along to anyone they know who may be travelling or living in the area.

Let's keep getting the word out everyone!

Thinking of you and your family,
Cara
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 7th, 2007 07:04 pm (UTC)

Studying in damascus, will try to help

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Hi, salam,

Someone sent me this link from finding my blog jannah.org/blog where I talked about my travels through Syria and visiting Hama and Qasr ibn wardan! I'm very sorry to hear about your sister. Syria is incredibly safe AND it's welcoming. Anyone who says it isn't has not been there. My brother and his wife, and my sister and her husband both live abroad in Damascus currently studying as I did myself. They are in contact with most of the westerners that live there studying Arabic. I'll let them know and perhaps they can spread the word. I do think the best thing for you is to go there yourself and trace her steps, people will be incredibly accommodating and helpful when they know you are a family member actually there, versus someone calling them on the telephone.

I pray everything goes well! Take care and please let me know if there is any way i can help. (jannahorg @ yahoo.com)
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 7th, 2007 07:06 pm (UTC)

YouTube Video

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The link to the video (http://www.youtube.com/v/6fMkkWDWgeY)
says it is no longer available.

Best wishes for a fortunate outcome.
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:May 7th, 2007 10:42 pm (UTC)

Re: YouTube Video

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A correction needed to be made - it's back up with a new link.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 7th, 2007 07:16 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Hi Matt,

Just a note, it appears that the video your friend made has been removed for some reason or another.

Jess
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:May 7th, 2007 10:41 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Just making a correction - it's back up with a new link.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 7th, 2007 07:35 pm (UTC)

just some thoughts.

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i lived and travelled extensively in syria a few years ago. it's all a matter of finding a syrian local who has seen her - foreigners in that part of the country don't go unnoticed for long. i'm really surprised the authorities didn't have a tail on her. be advised that hama is a sensitive city politically, and doesn't have great relations with the central government, because the government flattened the whole city a decade or two back. that may impede your progress, as people might be reluctant to speak with authorities.

syrians are excellent people though - i'm american, younger than your sister, and had no problems travelling alone through the country - and hopefully this will all turn out alright. it's very possible she would have no need for money if she was with a syrian family and unable to get back to hama for some reason - she would be taken care of without question on the basis of traditional hospitality.

yours,
katherine

she sounds savvy and clever though... presumably this will protect her.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 8th, 2007 12:42 am (UTC)

TO THE PEOPLE WITH NEGATIVE COMMENTS

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PLEASE THINK AND ACT LIKE A HUMAN BEING BEFORE MAKING A REALLY INSENSITIVE AND IGNORANT COMMENT. IF THIS WAS YOUR MOTHER, DAUGHTER, SISTER OR GIRLFRIEND, YOU WOULD NOT BE MAKING SMART ASS REMARKS.

SERIOUSLY, THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK.

AS FOR NICOLE'S FAMILY AND FRIENDS, I REALLY HOPE YOU FIND HER OR AT LEAST THE TRUTH TO THIS UNSETTLING SITUATION. I THINK, HEADING OUT THERE IS A GOOD IDEA; YOU'LL PROBABLY GET MORE ANSWERS TRACKING HER DOWN THERE THEN FROM THE OFFICIALS, WHO TEND TO DO EVERYTHING A LITTLE BIT SLOWER. BEST WISHES AND SAFE TRAVELS.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:May 8th, 2007 01:21 am (UTC)

Re: Reward

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Hi Doug,

Our thinking at this point is that a reward will cause more trouble than it is worth. You start getting the scam artists and people with false information who are just trying to milk a reward.

At some point we may consider a reward-type offer, but it would likely be in a very local context, not over the Internet. Legitimate groups who have the resources to seriously help (search firms and the like) would be up-front about it, leaving only the trickier contacts that at this point I don't have the resources to verify.

And obviously, were someone to suddenly show up having actually found her (or return her), we'd be appropriately delighted and shower them with accolades that they would, one would hope, refuse, thus allowing us to insist.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 8th, 2007 01:56 am (UTC)

From Toronto again

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Hi Matt,

In past 4 days whenever I have chance I check the update to hear any good news about Nicole.
The sad part about the search that why till now you didn't contacted the Arabic Media??!!, as we spoke on phone regarding the syrian Show about the missing people in syria '' khabrni ya Tyer'', did you try to contact the TV broadcaster?!!

Dear Matt,
I spoke with my family in Syria and they didn't hear about any canadian girl missing at all, which I found it strange. Why the delay?..

wish you the best in your search, and hope to find her soon.
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:May 8th, 2007 02:47 am (UTC)

Re: From Toronto again

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It's purely a matter of limited time. Between doing interviews and scanning incoming emails and keeping everyone updated in the family and online, I often run out of time to deal with new contacts, especially if it involves calling the Middle East where the time zone difference limits when I can call. I still have contacts from back on May 1st that I set aside as "special, to be re-examined", only to never have time to return to them.

I have your contacts in my "To Do for May 7th" list, but 17 hours later, I still haven't managed to get it in. They're back on the "To Do for May 8th" list.
(Deleted comment)
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 8th, 2007 02:43 am (UTC)

Time is of the Essence

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Matt,

I hope you make it out to Syria ASAP! It will surely be more effective getting answers from the locals if a family member is looking for his sibling, let alone the urgency of this situation.

I'm sending ya good energy...find her!
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 8th, 2007 04:16 am (UTC)

a few more thoughts

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I saw the article in the Sun today. I was in Syria for 2 weeks in mid-April. I stayed in Hama but did not visit Qasr Ibn Wardan. I did go to some out of the way places in other parts of the country and without fail whenever I was walking a quiet road, a local stopped and gave me a ride as far as he was going. I'm not sure if the custom would be different for a lone female though. There also minibuses travelling on most roads and they stop to pick up passengers anywhere along the way. If the area is at all touristy (either local or foreign tourists) there will also be taxis working the route. All I can say is get a good translator and walk every road she may have walked and talk to anybody she may have encountered along the way. Like everybody else has said I'm sure you'll get the warmest welcome imaginable from the Syrians.

I wish you all the best in your search. I've also forwarded your link to locals I met while in Syria.
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