May 31st (Evening) (Re-Update):
We have a new website!
For those of you who don't want to click on the link, it's located at the aptly named:
For now it's just the basics, but we plan on shifting a lot of the information from this blog to the website. This will free up the blog to just report on the latest information. I'd also like to put up a summary of what has happened and the various efforts we've made in order to help get people up to speed and reduce duplication in suggestions a bit.
The new website has a "quick email" option that allows you to send in any information/suggestions or words of support that you may want to offer. These go into my in-box and can be forwarded as necessary. Information can be supplied anonymously if that is what you would prefer.
A lot of people have asked about making donations to help cover the costs of flying to and from Syria, as well as the many other expenses involved in continuing the search over the long term. An independent trust has been set up to administer donations and the links are on the new website. Money donated to the trust will only be used to search for and return Nicole (or prosecute those that are responsible for her disappearance), and should we find her and have money left over, the remainder will be donated to Child Find Canada to help other people find their missing loved ones.
Please wander around the new website (it's not very large) and let me know of anything you can think of that would improve the site or that might be confusing. As I said, it's our first attempt, and I will soon be learning web site design on the fly in order to modify it to my perfectionist whims.
On a personal note, I've lost 7 or 8 pounds since this entire thing started, my lowest weight in over 15 years. I suspect that much of it has to do with the travel and infrequent meal-taking amidst emails. I certainly can't say that I recommend the diet, that's for certain.
In other news, it is looking like my mother and step-father may also be making a trip to Syria. Nothing is certain yet, but we suspect that my mother's personal involvement in Syria may assist in encouraging involvement by Syrians at all levels, from the person who might know something, to the higher-ranking officials.
I seem to be bouncing between optimism and pessimism as we slowly move forward. I'll try and use the newfound optimism of rolling out the website to handle a large chunk of emails. I really do appreciate hearing from everyone, even if it's just a few lines from a complete stranger. I just wish I could respond to all of them!
The "Middle East Times" has an article about the search for Nicole. It's fantastic to be reaching a more international audience.
May 30th (Evening):
I called Gary in Syria this morning (this afternoon for him). He's understandably frustrated with the whole situation. The police and government of Syria have been distracted by the recent referendum on the presidency, to the point that they haven't really been able to do much searching. But they have also told him that he can't leave Hama without police escort (which isn't available due to the election). With him returning this weekend for a short spell, it's been making it difficult for him to get out to the villages before heading home.
Gary has had some success in getting the posters distributed - apparently 30,000 of them will be passed out in the near future. Of course, that is held up by the issues of setting up a trust fund to help finance the search and getting the appropriate representation in both countries so that we can put the info on the posters. If we get a deluge of calls (which would surprise me, quite frankly), we need a call centre equivalent to handle the load, and that's tricky to find.
Both Gary and I would like to just do what needs to be done and worry about the legal concerns later, but the last thing we want is to lose out on a valuable tip, or to have donations taxed as income to us, etc. So we proceed slowly.
I have once again fallen behind on email. Going back to work has (understandably) cut into my time and energy, even though I'm sticking to half days for now. I am reading everything, and making use of ideas and information provided, but I may not respond immediately.
Returning to work brings up the difficult situation of what people in my personal life should say to me when they haven't seen me for a while and are following the story. Everyone wants to offer condolences and ask if anything new has come up and that's fantastic. It becomes a problem, however, when I'm repeating the same details a dozen times a day! I'm also partially at work to not think about the situation - I do plenty of that at home and I just spent a month living and breathing the topic. It's tricky for everyone, just like when someone loses a close family member or is seriously ill. My thoughts on it are that people should let me bring it up, otherwise I'm happy to not mention it and just talk about all the usual things I talk about. And people can always email me.
Given the slowing pace of the investigation both here in Canada as well as in Syria, I'm tempted to publish every shred of evidence we have - from the (edited) details in her journal to the maps she drew of her plans for the day to the guest lists and bus registrations for all the hotels and trips she took in Syria. There is a worry that doing this would compromise the investigation in some way, but at this point I'm kind of asking, "what investigation?" Maybe a couple of thousand extra eyes can help notice things we haven't seen.
May 29th (Morning):
Apparently the Internet has been down in Hama for the past 3-4 days, though it is back up in Damascus. Gary is alive and well, just out of contact. This is yet another setback since I've been sending him lists of things he can check up on, and small leads to follow, and he hasn't been receiving them.
The RCMP has just confirmed that they will not be sending any officers to Syria to assist with the investigation. After repeated meetings with the Syrians, they are confident that the Syrian police are doing everything possible and will continue to do so, thus there is no additional benefit to having someone else on the ground from Canada who is not familiar with things at a local level.
When I first started searching for Nicole, I didn't bother with trying to contact magazines or periodicals that published relatively infrequently because I assumed we would find her within days and thus only daily media was relevant. I suspect we'll now have to re-visit that assumption. Does anyone know how to attract the attention of magazines and periodicals? Contacts in the industry? Is it just a matter of getting the attention of a freelance writer who thinks the story is sellable?
May 28th (Late Evening):
Just checking in quickly so people don't think anything has happened. We haven't heard from Gary today, and no messages from the RCMP or Foreign Affairs have been relayed to me either, so I suspect it was a slow day in Syria. I'm struggling to find something interesting to comment on, but it's slightly after midnight already, so I'm just going to leave it there.
May 27th (Evening):
As expected, the pace of new information and leads (and media interest) has slowed to a trickle. After catching up on a few hundred emails yesterday, a break is welcome today. Apparently the Internet was down in Syria earlier in the weekend (rumour has it that most connections go through a central server in Damascus) so Gary was briefly out of contact, but he's back in touch now. He and the folks at Foreign Affairs continue to report enthusiastic participation by the Syrian government and police in our search for Nicole.
Tomorrow I am returning to work after missing all but two days since April 30th, so there may be a delay in email responses (though I generally read everything within a few hours of receiving them).
Sometimes, when lost in idle thought, I imagine the feeling of absolute joy that will be experienced if we find Nicole. The tears of happiness, the rushing her back to Canada, showing her all the things we did to find her, watching her get all pissed off that all these people have read her journal...even though it seems unlikely at this point, it would be so wonderful to have a happy ending to all of this.
May 26th (Noon) (Re-Update):
Someone has just pointed out, quite rightly, that I have not mentioned what Gary has been up to in Syria.
Unfortunately, as I experienced in Syria, it's difficult to keep everyone in Canada updated from a single email each day (if you happen to get to a cafe that day). There were lots of small details from our work in Syria that I didn't mention to the folks at home until I got back because it would take too much effort to type out and explain. So Gary is up to lots of stuff, but I'm only able to see a small window of it.
Gary has met with a lawyer in Syria to act as a representative for any possible reward offers, though the Syrians themselves may offer an even larger award due to their great concern over Nicole's disappearance. He also managed to get himself invited to a local fundraiser in order to raise awareness. He's contacted Syrian newspapers and asked them about possible articles, but they won't run anything that isn't approved by the Ministry of Information so we've gone the route of purchasing advertisements in the papers with her information. He is investigating how to contact local TV stations, and is busy printing out colour copies of our various posters for his return to Hama.
Concern has also been expressed for Gary's well-being. He has done several long solo trips in the past and is very comfortable in Syria. The Embassy folks have been very kind to him, and even when he returns to Hama, there will still be all the people we met there who will welcome him back, from the police to the hotel workers to the guys in the market where he showed the posters every day. He is very safe there - having never lost a foreigner before, the Syrians are being very careful not to lose a second one.
May 26th (Morning):
No update yesterday - I was busy with our littlest brother's high school graduation and celebratory dinner. We decided to not distract from him for half a day to try and give everyone a rest, though I believe Foreign Affairs or the RCMP called with their daily update right in the middle of the ceremony itself.
One of the big difficulties in making things happen is the difference in time zones and weekends. Everything pretty much shuts down in Syria early Thursday afternoon until Sunday due to Friday being their "Sunday". But the Canadians on this end aren't in the office on Sunday. So with the 7 hour time difference, everything we send after Wednesday night won't get acted on until Monday. Thus there are only three days of the week where everyone is working at roughly the same time, and all of the officials have other responsibilities.
To add to the delays, when following formal channels we have to send the email to the RCMP or Foreign Affairs on this end (note that our RCMP contact is in B.C., three more hours behind us and Syria), they then have to determine what they want to do and send it to their people in Syria. Those people then have to follow up with the Syrians (in most cases) which requires more formal requests - you can't just call them up and go visit (apparently). So a quick question like, "can we check all the rental car agencies in Syria to see what foreigners may have given Nicole a ride" can take a week just to present to the Syrians. They then would need to prioritize it and follow up, but there is no guarantee that all the companies (and we hope there are very few) have updated computer records, or that the various branch offices will respond to requests for information in a timely manner. Once they do, we still need it translated.
At this point, no one knows what to do with the list, so it has to come back to me to be verified against hotel records or any other information we have regarding people Nicole might have come into contact with.
Even the stuff being done just in Canada can take much longer than expected. We began the process of setting up a fund to help search for Nicole while I was still in Syria. This week we needed to get the independent co-signers into the same bank and then we're surprised with a "VP signature" requirement. But the VP has left for the day, and on Friday he's in training, etc. Suddenly we're into the next week and all the dependencies (new website, reward information) are delayed further.
And each day, the trail grows colder, and we try not to think of Nicole being captured and wondering when we're going to come find her. It was eight weeks ago today that she disappeared.
This, I suspect, is contributing to difficult sleep for me. Two nights ago my brain would not let up on me about comparing the hotel guest lists, even though we're still missing some as well as the bus registration for the bus from Palmyra/Tadmoor to Hama (a request that was informally submitted a week ago, 5 days ago in Syria through more formal channels).
So it turns out that the past few days may have been the best ones for being ill as we're stuck in the awkward spot of waiting for a bunch of ideas and leads to become active. I'm feeling better today and hope to go through all my notes and possible leads and summarize them into one document that the entire family can work with.
One lead that we have decided not to follow up with is dogs. The RCMP experts indicated that dogs would be no good after two or three days, but an accredited search dog expert, and volunteer member of search and rescue teams, has successfully found trails up to five weeks later. This is not the kind of contradictory information we want to be facing. We decided, however, that due to the delays involved in gettings visas for the American search team, and the problems finding enough team members who are able to quickly jet of to Syria, the expense involved was not worth it given the low likelihood of a successfull read. We're pretty certain Nicole never made it to the beehive houses (a more remote area that is easier for dogs to find scent trails), but tracking in a city after 8 weeks (likely 10 by the time it happens) and some local flooding isn't a high probability venture. It makes us really wish we'd thought of it four weeks ago.
May 24th (Evening) (Re-Update) :
As might have been expected given the travel and late nights in the past few weeks, I've become a bit sick - a fever last night and overall soreness and weariness today. It's frustrating because I can't afford to be sick right now, but I know that I need to rest so I can stay effective. I went back to work today for the first time in three weeks and it was nice to face problems I could easily solve for half a day.
There's a lot of stuff going on in the background now that are being handled by my family and other professionals, often volunteers. One of these is a new website specifically aimed at finding Nicole that we hope to have up within a day or so. It will contain some pictures, the basic details and a link to this blog as well as a link to a summary of events and other relevant information. If you have suggestions as to other stuff to include, feel free to let me know in the comments or by email.
My plan is to rest tonight and tomorrow (though I will be attending my little brother's high school graduation in the afternoon), and then vigorously attack the backlog of issues over the weekend so that Gary has plenty to follow up on in Syria starting Sunday.
And CBC has promised that my mother and I will be on The National tonight, so if you're in Canada, feel free to watch.
The Canada AM interview is located here. There's a link on the right side to the actual video, though you have to wait through a commercial first. Are people interested in having the various media links posted? Do they hate it?
May 23nd (Evening):
Quick update: Due to the school shooting here in Toronto, the piece on Nicole will not be showing on The National tonight, though it did show on the evening news. They will play it later this week when they have space in the show. It's understandable - we missed out on a live CBC interview in Syria because they had to rush off to Lebanon that morning.
May 23nd (Afternoon) (RE-EDIT) (RE-EDIT AGAIN):
Boy am I tired.
Much as I wanted to rush right into getting everything done on this end (and there's lots to be done), I just don't have the energy after 19 hours of travel and then staying up to fill everyone in on this end. But I know I'm no good if I'm weary and not paying attention, so I've restricted myself to just reading emails and doing some media today.
We're finally going to be on National television here in Canada. The National (and the CBC Evening News) will show an interview not only with me, but with my mother - the first time she's been willing to talk on camera. There should also be some footage that I took while in Syria (CBC sent a camera along with me just in case, but it didn't get much use as we didn't want it to be a distraction).
I will also be on Canada AM tomorrow morning on CTV at around 8:40am EST. It will be a return visit for me as they had me in a few weeks ago when I first started searching.
I wantd to take another moment to thank all the volunteers who have helped us so far. I don't want to use specific names or leave anyone out, but there are many things that have been made much easier with the assistance of people around the world. Translations, suggestions, research, follow-up - it's been fantastic.
We have a new problem that needs solving. If a reward is offered, someone needs to handle all the incoming calls and record who called and what they said so it can be followed up on and rewards given as appropriate. In Canada, this is normally done by the CrimeStoppers organization. Unfortunately, Syria does not have such an organization and it's not something the Embassy has the resources for. It's not really a job for the police either. Do people familiar with Syria have any ideas?
AND...did a Syrian television show mention that Nicole was missing? If so, can you please email me with the details? I chatted with one show, but we were hoping to contact other stations as well.
May 22nd (Evening):
I'm back in Canada. Exhausted from the long trip, but happy to have brought Nicole's gear back to mom.
We're now going to move to the "next stage" of the search for Nicole. I flew British Airways for the first leg home and the news was filled with stories about Madeleine McCann, the 3-year old who was abducted in Portugal three weeks ago. While it served as a constant reminder of our situation, I also noted one commentator indicating that their website has received over 90 million hits, and 50,000 comments! They're attacking the problem a bit more professionally than I've been able to here, but this week should see us starting up a few new (and more expensive) strategies. One of these will be a fund to help pay for the searching, but I'll get to that once everything has been formalized. A reward may also be offered.
Readers of www.syria-news.com will notice an article about Gary and I searching in Syria. I can't actually read the article because it's in Arabic, but I've been told it's good. We spent more than an hour in an interview with them in Damascus on Monday. I also chatted with the Toronto Star.
Tomorrow I will catch up on all the emails - for now I need some sleep!
May 21st (Evening):
ARGH. The Syrian Internet cafes have eaten my May 20th entry. I can remember writing and posting it yesterday, but it must not have saved properly. This is extremely frustrating. I can sense that I'm really close to the edge as even the the smallest of setbacks makes me want to walk away from the computer and do anything else. It will be very good to get back to Canada.
Gary and I met with the police on Saturday night and went over a bunch of leads. The police were great about immediately following up on our suggestions (literally calling the relevant person at 10pm and asking for information as we sat there) and we were able to clear a few things up. Unfortunately, most of the things we're clearing up are the "out there" theories that we're starting to consider as opposed to new leads with real information about Nicole's location.
One item in particular is whether something happened at the Cairo Hotel since no one has reported seeing her after she left. There are two primary reasons the police are not putting a lot of effort into that line of thought:
1) No motive. The Cairo Hotel is one of several hotels owned by the same family that have run without incident for the past 30 years. They have a vested interest in maintaining Syria's tourism reputation;
2) Too busy. If something happened in the hotel, the walls aren't so thick that no one would have heard or noticed.
I realize that there are scenarios that could work despite these two issues, but at this point the police are concentrating their efforts on more likely outcomes.
We have a bit of a concern that once I and/or Gary leaves Syria, that the local attention will be directed elsewhere. An observer quietly pointed out to us that whomever finds Nicole will be receiving awards and promotions so we shouldn't worry about that too much. Not that I doubt the earnestness of the local authorities at all, but I can certainly appreciate more material incentives.
Sunday was a very disappointing day as we had run out of leads and the Internet connections were too poor (and the cafes too hot and humid) to get any "office" work done. We wandered the streets and Gary handed out all of our remaining posters, but it didn't feel very productive. It has become clear that I am most valuable when attached to a keyboard, so having me come home is best. With the one obvious and notable exception, I accomplished what I set out to do with this trip: I created a more personal connection by physically talking to everyone involved, and I saw everything for myself. I also cleared up a lot of confusion among different parties which is very important. We have a few leads that only the police can follow up on, but the need for me to be here in person is no longer as great.
Now I am back in Damascus doing interviews with local media as well as some Canadian outlets. I'll be in transit for most of Tuesday, so there may not be an update given the sorry state of Heathrow's public Internet options. I've got a lot of things to respond to and send out and I expect I'll finally catch up on all of that by the end of the week.
And does anyone know if there are search dogs in Syria? I didn't realize how powerful their noses can be - there's a small chance that the right type of dog could detect whether Nicole has been to the various sites, even though seven weeks have passed. I haven't checked with the Syrian police yet because this information just came in, so I thought I would ask here.
May 19th (Evening):
Today marks seven weeks to the day that Nicole headed out for a day-trip and did not return. Gary and I attempted to re-create her trip by leaving the Cairo Hotel at 8:45, walking to the minibus station, taking a minibus to al-Hamra, walking along the road to see hitching opportunities, and then taking a local driver to the beehive houses (both places), the castle, and even to As'sa'en, a village on her hand-drawn map that no tourist would ever need to go to. We put up lots of posters, chatted with local bedouin at the market, and got the definite impression that she never made it to any of the tourist sites and no one has seen her. Frustrating.
The definite high points of these trips are the Syrians themselves. In As'sa'en they would look at the poster and call other people by phone to come see. They then took us to visit a local who spoke English. On the minibus back we met a soldier from one of the nearby bases who knew who we were just from looking at us, and said it was all over the base. Everyone we have met has been very hospitable and try their hardest to help.
Tomorrow we will meet with the police again and go over everything. They have been busy investigating Apamea. They offered to take us there Friday but we thought that was just for our sake. It's very comforting to see their aggressive follow-up on Nicole's trail.
On the multimedia side, we have updated the photos of Nicole here on the blog. The third photo down has her in the exact same clothes as she was wearing when she disappeared, minus the blue daypack that is in one of the other photos.
The "YouTube" video has been updated to reflect the latest information and pictures.
It will be difficult to leave Gary behind when I head back to Canada on Tuesday morning. This trip would have been much, much harder without him.
May 18th (Evening):
A bit of a rest day today - with most shops closed on Friday during the day, there are much fewer people around. We explored various areas of Hama that Nicole visited two days prior to her disappearance, as well as an old bus station that was still listed in her Lonely Planet as the correct stop to al-Hamrah. We're pretty sure she went to the right bus stop (closer to the hotel), but thought we would take a look at it. With no people around, we couldn't really ask if they'd seen her, unfortunately.
The interview did appear on Al-Jazeera, at least, it did in Iceland. I presume that others around the world may have seen it.
There are a few items in Nicole's possession that we are not mentioning yet in case we need to verify a sighting (among other reasons). But given the cold trail, I wanted to add today that she was wearing blue and grey New Balance running shoes. I'm going to ask the team at home in Canada to add a third photo to the blog with exactly what she was wearing that day, taken from earlier in her trip.
I have a request for help from Arabic speaking web types. I'd like to mirror the blog updates in Arabic so that more local people are able to follow along with the situation (including Syrian press). If someone can set up a website with the same text in Arabic (pictures and the rest are optional), then I will put a link at the top of the blog to lead people to it. You don't need to copy the entire blog entry (it's pretty long), but as many of the recent entries as possible would be great. I suspect that this may need to be done by someone outside of Syria.
Another note - a couple of people over the past few weeks have created Facebook groups for the search. We created one way back at the beginning that people can join, but there's no problem with additional groups as well as everything is just being put in the blog (much easier for me). If you're the moderator of one of these groups, please forward to me any comments that might seem relevant. I've also received some emails from other social networking sites - at this point (and given I'm in Syria), I can't tell the valid ones from the invalid ones, so I'm regretfully deleting the invitations and hope that people will still contact me via email.
May 18th (Noon):
It's Friday in Syria which means everything is closed for religious observance. Luckily the Internet Cafe folks are still open so I can quickly check up on things.
I wanted to make a very clear clarification as some of my comments from yesterday seem to have been misinterpreted. Nicole's boyfriend Gary is not a suspect and has never been a suspect. I was (inappropriately) referencing him to give some perspective on how outrageously paranoid one can get. Gary is absolutely devastated by Nicole going missing. After over half a year apart and looking forward to her return, Nicole was supposed to be home in his arms this very week and instead he's here in Syria looking for her. Hearing him talk about Nicole with such great affection is almost painful given the circumstance - a brother could not find anyone better to be his sister's "soul mate"
In fact, while I will likely be returning to Canada on Tuesday morning, Gary will be staying here in Syria to continue looking for Nicole. By being here, he hopes to keep up the urgency of the search as well as being able to rapidly respond to any new information. It's not going to be easy.
I would also like to comment on the many fantastic suggestions I've been receiving. Every email sent to me is being read, but with the poor connections here in Syria, I don't have the time to respond to very many. I just wanted everyone to know that we're often implementing suggestions or asking the questions that you are bringing up, we just don't have the time to let you know that we've done so. In other words, keep the suggestions coming - it's really helped us with the investigation.
And has anyone seen the interview with Al-Jazeera? It wouldn't have been shown in North America. I just want to make sure it was actually broadcast.
May 17th (Evening):
Argh - the agonies of an incredibly slow Internet connection with hours of work ahead of me in a smokey and cramped Internet cafe. On the plus side, they give out free chocolate cookies every few hours, and it's hard to complain when you're only paying 60 cents an hour.
This is starting to feel like a murder investigation. It's like Nicole's boyfriend and I have somehow been trapped in someone's fiction novel and we're the ones playing detective. We say we want to chat with someone, the police fetch them to our hotel. I ask whether they've checked the bank machine cameras near the hotel to see if Nicole is on tape, they rush into the bank and check. I ask for the guest list at the Cairo Hotel as well as the competing Riad Hotel next door, they provide it. I review the list and suggest trying to contact people, they say they'll get right on it. The police have been extremely helpful and respond to almost every suggestion.
The problem is - I'm not supposed to be the detective! But I get the feeling that most crimes here are crimes of passion and easily solved, or if the crime is more complicated, the secret police find the solution within a few days. No one has ever seemed to have encountered a genuine mystery and as a result, they're not really prepared to deal with it. It's a bit frustrating - they interviewed the various bus drivers many days ago, but it wasn't until today that I thought to check if any drivers had recently quit, or if any drivers were new. We checked and they aren't and they haven't (or at least, that's what they say), but it's a big responsibility to have to think all this stuff up - I wish I watched more Police Dramas!
And once you start thinking about pre-meditated murder, you can't help but get a bit paranoid. Are the guys at the ruins lying? Are the bus drivers? The manager at the Cairo Hotel? His brother? Are the police in on it? 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?
Today we investigated the area around the Cairo Hotel, the roads leading to the bus stop, as well as the hotel itself. Their is no evidence of her door being forced open. There is a window into the room that could allow entry if someone was willing to clamber over quite a gap. There's no basement to store anything in (it's a gym that opens at noon, the 1st floor is a government office that was closed on the Saturday she disappeared), but there is a locked room on the roof that is likely a machinery room for ventilation. I had Gary "distract" the staff while I made it out to the roof to look around, climbing over satellite dishes. I suspect the staff would have been fine with us looking - I truly believe their innocence - but when the manager says he had trouble finding the backup key because his brother had put it somewhere, my mind can't help but wonder if that means anything.
And to top it off, stories continue to change and get updated. We ask if Nicole might have gotten lost on the way to the bus station. The manager says "no" - he gave her a little card with a map on it. In fact, she had one of these cards in her luggage that was left at the hotel. But...we never saw such a card in the luggage. It turns out that when the police spread her luggage out for review, he took the card back because he didn't think it was relevant. Not quite the inviolate crime scene one would hope for.
I spent an hour today reviewing all of my notes and came up with additional avenues to explore, but none of them look particularly promising. The Lonely Planet has two errors in it - one relating to the bus station location, the other relating to the order on the road of the two Beehive Houses. Either one could result in Nicole being in the wrong place so tomorrow we'll try and follow-up on one of them, and on Saturday we'll follow up on the other. Unfortunately Friday is a day off for everyone, so I'm not sure how much we'll be able to accomplish as it won't be representative of normal activity.
This is going to make for one hell of a book one day, I just hope Nicole is there to read it.
May 17th (Morning):
A quick update this morning. The three names mentioned earlier are Americans. My apologies for forgetting to mention that. Keep in mind that spellings could be totally incorrect - it could be Catherine, Kathryn, Katharine, etc. "Martin" could even be "Meredith" - we're pretty sure it was a male, but I'll have to check again.
We've updated the posters to reflect some new information and contact numbers.
Last night was a flurry of interviews for radio and television, but they're all in Canada. Meanwhile CNN is reporting on the "massive" news that Prince Harry will not be going to Iraq and it's getting repeated worldwide coverage and interviews that even reaches us here in Syria. If only Nicole were royalty!
Some more thoughts on Nicole's possible activities on that day. We're pretty sure she actually attempted a day trip because just two days before she had wandered Hama and would have accomplished all her "chores" such as laundry. With an April 5th exist visa, she needed to pack as much in as she could so she would get out of the country in time.
The authorities say they have checked the hospitals, but in Syria you can never be certain. As the one senior administrator said, "we don't need to check, they'll tell us if they have a foreigner come in", but if that were really true, someone would have mentioned her disappearance early in April when it was first reported. It's difficult to fight the bureaucracy here - that's just "how things are". If this is the situation, it's gone on pretty long without anyone noticing, so we're leaving it for now.
We tried talking to local shop owners today without a translator and the difficulties are great. We'll be back with our translator tomorrow but we're still facing the issue of six weeks having passed and asking them to notice someone walking by. Our hope is that if there was some "scene" involving screaming and yelling, they might have noticed, but if so, it probably wouldn't have gone unnoticed.
May 16th (Evening):
Things are continuing at a hectic pace, but it seems that we are mostly covering ground the police have already checked. A bunch of updates here, along with a search for three people that I hope everyone can help me on.
Today we visited the Dead Cities. The reason for the visit is that Nicole wrote out the directions in the back of her guidebook (Lonely Planet Guide - Middle East). These directions exactly match the directions given in a different guidebook that we have (Lonely Planet Guide - Syria and Lebanon). Thus, she must have borrowed the other guide and copied down the maps (there are two maps with directions written out). It might help to find where she borrowed the book and see if anyone discussed the trips with her. There is a third trip from Hama that is mentioned, but she took no notes on that one so the police haven't investigated.
It seems very clear once again that Nicole did not reach the Dead Cities, or even the small villages on route where she needed to change buses. The drivers there were keen to see the poster, but did not recognize her. Everyone is very concerned and when we handed out the poster they were immediately putting them up in shop windows and people read them when they passed by. The police and locals have searched all the caves and wells at all the locations we've visited, and most of them see so few visitors that they all stick out quite clearly, especially single female travellers.
We have discussed Nicole's time at the Cairo Hotel extensively with staff. We have also been given a copy of the guest registrations at the Cairo Hotel for the days leading up to and subsequent to her disappearance. And we have been given the guest list at the Riad Hotel which is right next door - they are the only two backpacker hotels that anyone really goes to in Hama.
Here's where I need help. The hotel staff have indicated which three guests were talking to Nicole, and we want to find them and see what she might have said or asked. The names are a bit tricky because they were translated phonetically from English to Arabic by hotel staff, and then translated back to English six weeks later for us.
Does anyone know the following people, who would have been travelling together to Syria on March 29th/30th/31st? Spelling may be totally incorrect:
Catherine Lu (born 1987 or maybe 1957)
Barbara Lu (born 1950)
Marty Fox (born 1979)
The last name in particular could be very off - the hotel listed it as "Mardis Fukse" with accents on the a and the u. So it's tricky to say.
The authorities are also going to assist with this as we have their passport numbers, but I thought I'd give the Internet a chance to flex their intellectual muscles and see if they couldn't be found a bit faster. They are not in any trouble or anything similar, we just want to know what Nicole discussed with them that day in case it helps provide clues. They may also have comments on what was going on in Hama and there was anything strange.
The last two days have had us travelling by convoy to all these sites. We've had 3-4 policemen with us at all times, as well as an Embassy representative and 1-3 drivers, interpreters and locals. It's been quite a sight, but it's also kept me from responding to emails and various press requests. I hope to have some available time this evening for such things. The Syrian News wishes to interview me person, but unfortunately they are in Damascus so that will wait until Monday. We will be contacting other local press outlets tomorrow and begin passing Nicole's picture around to shops in the area of the Cairo Hotel. At this point, it definitely looks like she was heading to the Beehive houses as it is the most popular tourist destination left. It doesn't appear, however, that she ever got on to a bus, or if she did get in a vehicle, she never arrived.
May 15th (Afternoon):
It's been a very busy and eventful day - meeting with the Governor and Police Chief of Hama, and visiting the Beehive houses and Qasr Ibn Wardan with the police and translators. We also went to the Cairo Hotel and saw Nicole's room, and checked out the bus station. As everyone else who has visited these places before me has said, no one has seen her. Her poster is already up in the windows in the small towns along the route. The Syrian police have been very thorough - they've already talked to everyone and places have been searched thoroughly. It's very clear that Nicole's case is extremely important to the Syrian authorities and they're not leading us on when they say they're dedicating a lot of resources to this.
We followed up on some leads but they didn't turn into anything. We're feeling a bit stumped at the moment.
Unfortunately, this leaves me with little time to update or respond to emails today. I've also had various media requests (Arabic and Canadian) that I haven't yet had a chance to get to. My apologies - I need to get to sleep for a big day tomorrow.
May 14th (Afternoon):
We arrived in Damascus at 5:30 this morning and were greeted by Embassy staff. They've been taking good care of us here in Syria and it is good to meet with them face-to-face and plan the next few days. Today has been about resting up and meeting people in Damascus. Tomorrow we meet with the Governer of Hama and the local police officials. The impression we're getting is that every effort is being made to find Nicole by both the Embassy and the Syrian government and police.
We've read through Nicole's journals. There is no significant new evidence, though it does rule out various areas where she had already been that we weren't certain of. We've been concentrating on Qasr Ibn Wardan and the Dead Cities based on conversations with the Cairo Hotel as well as maps she'd drawn for directions. Some additional reading on the area may provide alternate destinations, but there's not much else to see from Hama before heading north to Aleppo so I suspect we're looking in the right areas.
We had hoped for more breakthroughs via the journal and being on the ground, but so far it's been just clarifications. Tomorrow we'll be in Hama and can begin the actual slogging through the streets and such.
May 13th (Afternoon):
We have arrived at Heathrow, despite numerous delays and problems. Hours to kill until the next flight. No new news for Mother's Day, unfortunately.
May 12th (Noon):
Absolutely no news today, the first time that has happened and hopefully not the beginning of a trend. This is why it is the right time to go to Syria and try new avenues of investigation. On the plus side, it allows me to prepare for the trip, though now that we're taking the next big step, the media is once again asking for interviews.
I'm likely as prepared as I'll ever be. I really appreciate everyone who has contacted me with advice on the area and suggestions on where and how to search. I have a list of contacts within Syria, but I will likely get my bearings first before following up with them.
I will be updating the blog while I am there, presuming technology allows me. Any emails you send will be reviewed by my family for urgent information, and I will try to read them each night as well.
May 11th (Evening):
Flights have been finalized for Syria. Air Canada to London, British Airways to Damascus. The Embassy will be meeting me at the airport and I will hopefully be able to meet with Syrian and Embassy officials throughout the day. By Tuesday I should be in Hama. My return flight is for the 22nd. If Nicole is not found by the 21st, then I will decide whether my being in Syria is still helpful. There is an odd feeling of destiny that I am landing in Syria on the day Nicole was supposed to be landing in Canada.
We received scanned copies of the final pages of Nicole's journals today from the Embassy. This has only added to the confusion as her written comments contradict what we thought we already knew. It's frustrating to find this out five days after the Embassy gathered them up Hama, especially where it contradicts what the Embassy reported to us having read directly from the journals. The essence has not changed - Nicole disappeared on the 31st or the 1st, and she had written down directions to both Qasr Ibn Wardan as well as the Dead Cities. We will continue to keep looking in those areas, but I suspect further reading of her journals may yield more clues.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have finally contacted us once again. They disappeared over a week ago - we had not really heard from them since we discovered Nicole's bag. Progress on this front is expected early next week and their expertise on missing persons, though a bit late, is welcome.
I will be interviewd by the Al-Jazeera network tomorrow. Our hope is that this will assist us in reaching people in Syria who might be able to help.
May 11th (Morning):
I am going to Syria. We are making the final flight arrangements now - if you happen to know higher-ups at Air Canada, please let us know. I will likely be arriving in Damascus on Sunday evening, and heading up to Hama on Monday or Tuesday after meeting with the Canadian Embassy and perhaps some Syrian officials. While I'm away, the blog will continue to be updated and emails read, either by myself in Hama, or by close family here in Canada.
As mentioned last night, the Syria News "picked up the story in Arabic". Many people then pointed out an article on the same page about two unidentified dead females in their 30s that had been discovered recently. With the help of our Arabic readers, I have learned that one of the females was recently pregnant and found on March 29th (too early), the other was found on April 4th wearing a track suit (green or yellow) and appears to be the victim of a car accident. We are relatively certain that the second female is just someone out jogging who was hit by a car and not Nicole.
This brings up an important method of helping us - if you read Arabic, please check the recent newspapers for any mention of unidentified females, especially foreigners. Car accidents or other incidents, anything you can find, particularly near Hama.
There have also been many comments added to the Syria News story in Arabic. In case people are adding helpful information in the comments but not realizing they should also send them to me in English (or are perhaps unable to), can some people please read through the comments and let me know if there are any significant leads? This is a problem we've had with the hundreds of blogs and sites helping us, it's difficult to check the comments on each one. If you are running a blog, or notice a comment that seems especially relevant, please leave a note here in the comments or email me.
I have added a link to a .jpg version of the Arabic poster:
Arabic Version (JPG)
This is so people with low-speed Internet connections can download the poster without having to download Adobe to read the .pdf files.
May 10th (Evening):
Some good news - the Syria News "picked up the story in Arabic". This allows us to reach a lot more people with a much great likelihood of finding someone in the area or who might know something.
The Syrian Ambassador didn't get a hold of me today. This is a bit disappointing as the Syrian weekend begins tomorrow so it's unlikely I will hear from him before Sunday.
There is still some confusion over the term "Dead Cities". Until I get to read her journals, I'm not sure I'll have it all resolved. They definitely say she was in Apamea on March 31st, and Apamea is apparently not a Dead City, so my previous post was in error. I have much more sympathy for the police after trying to work through all this information.
We've had some people do wonderful things for us. Today, two different people travelled to Hama and visited places Nicole may have visited, not only to pass out posters, but also to chat with people about her and report back to me what is going on in the area. Very much appreciated.
May 10th (Noon):
Some information has changed yet again.
Reading her journal has revealed that Nicole actually disappeared on April 1st (as we were first told). On March 31st she went to Apamea, which is also called the "Dead Cities" and returned to write about it. There has been much confusion between information provided by travellers who have read her journal and the Cairo Hotel staff, so it's good to finally resolve this. But it's frustrating to have the story and date continually changing (though I don't believe the date significantly affects the search)
Later today/tonight we will have updated posters that reflect the new information. Nicole was also carrying a small blue day pack (small knapsack) so we'll update the photo on the poster to have the day pack.
We met with the Ambassador yesterday and I believe it was fruitful. He will be following up with me today. It has become apparent that this sort of a situation (a foreigner disappearing this long in Syria) has never happened before and has the Syrians slightly baffled as well.
As the trail seems to be growing cold on this end, I'm seeing fewer and fewer reasons not to be in Syria. A decision will likely be made on that today or tomorrow now that I have the visa.
May 9th (Morning):
I am flying to Ottawa in about 15 minutes to meet with the Syrian Ambassador. I will be unavailable for the majority of the day.
It has been confirmed that for local buses, passengers do not need to register. All the bus registries have been checked and she is not on them.
The Syrian police have been questioning everyone in the area, drivers, shepherds, etc. They have been sufficiently thorough that there is now a theory that she may not have taken the bus. That is, she may not have reached it, or she may have planned to quickly do some other chore before heading out and run into trouble. This is unfortunate news as it once again expands the search to include Hama, especially the area near the Cairo Hotel. Nicole was a big fan of purchasing breakfast locally from street vendors, perhaps she was heading for a quick breakfast and got in trouble. She wouldn't have strayed far because she always walks where possible.
It's also possible that she was asking about the day trip and was planning it for another day, potentially on the way to Aleppo which would have been her next natural destination. We'll need to connect with the Cairo Hotel and see if she had planned on staying another night, or whether she left her stuff at the front until she returned for an evening trip onwards. Since she still had the hotel key when she went out, I suspect she planned on staying another night in Hama.
May 8th RE-UPDATE (Evening):
An experienced traveller has indicated that "Maarat al-Numan" is a centrally located town in the Dead Cities region that Nicole was trying to visit on March 31st. If anyone has contacts in Maarat al-Numan, al-Hamra or al-Muntar, please ask them if they remember any solo female travellers matching Nicole's description and could they please pass on the request to other people in the area.
We've hit some perplexing problems. Different reports have it as both possible and impossible to visit all the sites Nicole wanted to visit in a single day using only public transportation. But we've been told she did not take a tour and the hotel last saw her heading off to the bus. (She's too budget-conscious to take a taxi or private car) She didn't plan an overnight trip because she didn't bring the right gear for it. What are we missing or misunderstanding?
Here's a TV interview with me regarding Nicole, if anyone is interested.
May 8th UPDATE (Afternoon):
We're planning to meet with the Syrian Ambassador tomorrow in Ottawa. I won't be able to respond to emails for most of the day if that happens.
I've replaced the photo of Nicole's full backpack (which have found) to a picture of Nicole with her daypack which she was carrying when she disappeared. I've left the picture of Nicole in the shirt she was wearing that day (red with white sleeves).
It's been a rough day - exhaustion setting in and very little forward movement in the search.
May 8th UPDATE (Morning):
A bit of a step backwards today. There have been varying reports from the Cairo Hotel as to exactly where Nicole was travelling so I called them again for clarification. Apparently not only was she planning on visiting both the beehive houses and Qasr Ibn Wardan as we've known, she was also planning on visiting the "Dead Cities" as well. The most famous Dead Cities are al-Bara and Serjilla. The Hotel say it's possible to do both in one day, and that she didn't take a tour but used public transit, which is definitely her style.
This expands our search radius significantly as the Dead Cities cover quite a large area, hence the difficulty for the local police in finding her.
My apologies to everyone I haven't responded to, as well as leads I haven't yet followed. I'm already exhausted today and it's only 9:45 in the morning. I suspect I need to stop with the late nights and early mornings and get some rest or I'll be no good to anyone.
May 7th UPDATE (Noon):
Again, there is very little real news to report. I want to assure everyone who emails that every email is being read, but I don't have time to respond to them all just now. Some of our contacts will only talk on the phone and that necessarily takes more time, as do the various media interviews as we try and get the word out.
At this point, we're still trying to reach people that live or work along the route to Qasr Ibn Wardan. Along this route is the town of al-Hamra where she likely got off the mini-bus and attempted to walk or hitchhike the remaining distance.
We are also attempting to reach religious leaders that might have contacts via their church/mosque with other religious leaders in the area. They might have access to the community that no one else possesses.
Foreign Affairs has retrieved Nicole's belongings and is keeping up constantly updated on any progress in the investigation as passed along to them by the Syrian government. The Syrian Ambassador to Canada has contacted us and has been very helpful in assisting us with visas and following up on the investigation. Reports in Hama have indicated that the Syrian police are actively searching for her, and people are becoming aware that she is missing. I thank everyone for their efforts in this regard, especially a Canadian traveller who printed out over a hundred Arabic flyers (copies available below) and distributed them at the Hama bus pick-up spots.
I am preparing to go to Syria myself in hopes that personal contact might make it easier to find information, and to perhaps use my knowledge of Nicole to figure out what she might have done. I could be there by the end of the week.
May 6th UPDATE (Morning):
With the help of a Canadian traveller in Hama, we have confirmed that Nicole is wearing a long-sleeve red T-shirt with white sleeves. This is the shirt that appears in one of the pictures below. She also has her passport with her.
Using maps on the Internet, we've added two villages to our search for contacts. If anyone knows anyone in Al Hamra or Al Muntar, both of which appear to be near Qasr Ibn Wardan, then please contact them. This is in addition to our search for people with connections to the local tribes around the castle and people in the Hama (or Hamah) area.
A friend has added the "Nicole is Missing" posters to her website for easy downloading and printing if you wish to post them in the Hama area.
We will soon have an updated version of the Arabic poster to specify that she went missing in Hama, Syria (as opposed to just "Syria")
May 5th UPDATE (Evening) (Re-updated):
Using maps on the Internet, we've added two villages to our search for contacts. If anyone knows anyone in Al Hamra or Al Muntar, both of which appear to be near Qasr Ibn Wardan, then please contact them. This is in addition to our search for people with connections to the local tribes around the castle.
A friend has added the "Nicole is Missing" posters to her website for easy downloading and printing if you wish to post them in the Hama area.
If anyone could quickly translate these into Arabic, I can provide the original Power Point files and/or the photos. Thank you to everyone who offered to translate - we managed to get a translated version in PDF format finished within hours of posting this request.
A couple of people have mentioned that the number on the English/French poster is actually for the Jordanian Embassy. This is because the Canadian Police gave us this number as their contact in the area. Foreign Affairs has not given us any contact information for within Syria. The Arabic version of the poster has the Damascus Embassy number and we've let Foreign Affairs know that we're using it.
May 5th UPDATE (Afternoon):
A disappointing 24 hours - after so many mini-breakthroughs this week, it was tough to go a full day without anything too significant.
I've started doing interviews with the Canadian media in hopes of finding people who have contacts in the area. We're still working on the Syrian media and people have been great at pointing us to newspapers sites, unfortunately we haven't had a lot of time to follow up.
We have confirmed that Nicole was heading to Qasr Ibn Wardan (a castle) on March 31st. She got on a microbus about 500 meters from the Cairo Hotel. We need to contact the microbus station and see if they can confirm dropping her off and where they last saw her.
To get to the castle apparently requires some hitchhiking - we spoke to a traveller who did the exact same trip on April 12th. There are Bedouin families living in the area and those are the people we need to contact, especially ones right near the castle as foreigners are rare enough that they might remember her.
Does anyone have a Bedouin connections?
We have directly contacted Mark Bailey, the Canadian Ambassador in Damascus. He politely gave us no information and indicated that they will keep us informed via the proper channels in Ottawa. It was not particularly reassuring and did not contain any specific details about what is being done. In particular, he did not respond to our request that someone collect Nicole's gear so it is safe and we can determine what she was wearing when she disappeared.
There is also a possibility that she followed an incorrect map to a place called "Al Andarin" that's in the desert. I haven't had a chance to look this location up, but if anyone has connections in "Al Andarin", that would be invaluable to us.
We are hoping to have the "girl is missing" posters on a website soon, as well as an Arabic translation.
May 4th UPDATE (Morning):
Very few updates this morning. "Alqebab" has been translated to mean "the Domes", which is what beehive houses look like. Therefore we suspect it may be a description, not a specific location.
Thus, Nicole headed out to see the "beehive houses" on the morning of March 31st and did not return. Rumour puts her travelling through the area of the "Dead Cities" (local ruins/castles) and near Ibn Wardan, a local castle/citadel. These are to the north-east of Hama (or "Hamah").
We are currently looking for anyone with contacts in the Hama or Aleppo/Halab area that might know people living near these ruins, or who drive local buses or deal with tourists/backpackers.
We are also looking for any updates on whether this search has made it to the local news in Syria. Is it mentioned at all in the newspapers or on television? Contacts within the police that can let us know that they are searching for her would also be gratefully received. We're blind at this point, and the Syrian government hasn't said anything to us.
We also have "Missing" posters made up with her picture and relevant details in .pdf format. They include contact information for myself and for the local Canadian embassy staff, and are in french and english. If you are in the Hama/Aleppo area and wish to put up posters where locals might see them (we presume any travellers from late March have long since left), that would be appreciated - email me and I'll send them to you.
May 3rd UPDATE (Evening):
She disappeared on March 31st, not April 1st.
She left the Cairo Hostel to go look at some "beehive houses" which are a traditional type of housing, as well as the "Dead Cities". Apamea is not included in this trip - her journal (found on-site) indicates that she was in Apamea the day before.
She apparently disappeared somewhere between Ibn Wardan, a castle, and a place we only know as "Alqebab". We're not sure where "Alqebab" is, but it was orally transmitted and may be "Al Kebab" or something similar. Any tips on this are appreciated.
May 3rd UPDATE (Afternoon):
Unfortunately, we've found Nicole's gear, but not Nicole. Everyone can stop checking the hotels.
Nicole left the Cairo Hotel on
April 1st March 31st with her room key and never returned. The contact at the hotel indicated that she was heading out on a day trip to the Dead City, which I believe is Apamea, roughly 60km away. It's a day-trip type excursion using local microbuses.
If anyone has any links to microbus drivers based in Hama, or anyone in Apamea, or could check for any car or bus accidents along that route, please contact me as soon as possible: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I will begin calling hospitals in Hama. If anyone knows the hospitals in Hama, please contact me.
Summary: Nicole Vienneau went missing in Syria on March 29th. We are looking for any assistance in finding her, particularly people in Syria who can contact hotels and hospitals, or are familiar with the tourism industry. We are also interested in bringing this to the attention of the Syrian media, so if you know reporters or editors, or can submit it to local papers, that would be very much appreciated. I can be contacted at email@example.com. Her details and picture are further down the page.
My apologies to people who have emailed but I haven't gotten back to. It's very hectic around here and I will get back to you as soon as I can.
If you can get a list of hospitals in Hama (with contact info if possible), please email it to me!
May 3rd UPDATE (Morning):
1) The following hotels in Aleppo/Halab have been checked and Nicole did not stay there:
Hotel Nejm Illahdar/Hotel Green Star
If anyone knows of other budget hotels in Aleppo, please pass that along so they can be checked.
2) We are looking to confirm the exact dates Nicole stayed at the Cairo Hotel in Hama/Hamah (222 280). If anyone can help with that, please pass along the information. They know about the search, it's just vague as to her actual check-in and check-out times and whether they know where she was headed next.
3) We are still trying to confirm that she did not visit Palmyra/Tadmur:
New Afqa Hotel* 910 386
Citadel Hotel* 910 537
Sun Hotel* 911 133
Al-Nakheel Hotel 910 744
Baal Shamen Hotel* 910 453
4) And while we don't think she stayed in Damascus after returning from Lebanon, it would be great if someone could confirm that:
Al-Rabie Hotel* 231 8374
Ghazal House 231 3736
Al-Haramain Hotel 231 9489
5) Presuming she disappeared after leaving Hama, we're looking for any advice/suggestions on where she might have gone and/or how to find out if she made it there (or didn't). Bus drivers, tourist site operators, that kind of thing.
May 2nd UPDATE (Afternoon):
Lots of news:
My sister has NOT entered Turkey. She is still in Syria. To everyone who has offered to help from within Turkey, your offers have been very much appreciated - I cannot begin to describe how gratifying it is to hear from so many people offering to help - but fortunately we've narrowed the search to Syria (which is much smaller).
Using IP Address information at the suggestion of some commenters, we have determined that her last email was from Al Masna, Syria. This is at the border crossing from Beirut to Damascus, so we know how she entered the country. Very many thanks to the people that suggested this search technique.
AND, we've discovered that she stayed at the Cairo Hotel in Hama. We're still trying to get the exact dates (around the 30th), but it's a big step forward in tracking her movements. It means she left Damascus and headed north. From Hama, I suspect she would have gone on to Aleppo. We have also confirmed that she did not stay at either of the two main hostels in Lattakia.
May 1st UPDATE (Afternoon):
Last Heard From: March 29th in Syria. Likely Damascus. She had just returned to Syria from Lebanon with the intent to travel Syria until her visa expired on April 5th, and then on to Turkey. We still don't know if she made it out of Syria - the request to find out was submitted to Turkey ten days ago (see below for bureaucratic issues)
At this point I'm concentrating on searching for her in Syria. If we find that she's made it to Turkey, then the possible options become much larger.
Nicole is travelling alone but would ocasionally meet up with other travellers and they would travel together.
Her Plan/Itinerary: She is using the Lonely Planet guide to the Middle East for the Syria portion of her trip. Thus we can roughly guess at where she would visit based on whether it's covered in the book. On the other hand, she also liked to borrow country-specific guidebooks from other travellers or hotels to get an idea of things she might be missing, and she might visit something that is highly recommended by others but not in the guidebook.
Travel Style: She is very cost-conscious - she uses the cheapest hotels/hostels and the cheapest travel options including local mini- and micro-buses.
Based on the Lonely Planet and my experiences travelling with her, I suspect her itinerary would include Damascus, Hama and Aleppo for certain. Potentially Palmyra, and a slim possibility of Bosra and Lattakia. I have a list of three hotels in each of these cities that I'm hoping can be contacted by someone who speaks Arabic, either on-site, or by telephone, to see if she stayed there between March 29th and April 5th.
What You Can Do To Help:
Please spread the word - the more people I can reach, the more likely someone will have seen her, or will have contacts that can help find her.
If you speak Arabic and are willing to assist in contacting these hotels, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll send you the list - I don't want to have too much overlap and barrage these poor hotels with calls.
If you have friends or family who have recently back-packed or trvelled to Syria, please pass along this link in case they may have run into her.
May 1st UPDATE (Morning):
For people trying to contact me directly, I'm at email@example.com
A lot of people have asked similar questions, so here are a few answers:
The Canadian Government was our first contact back on the 22nd. They are working through diplomatic channels to see what they can find including all the consulates in the Middle East. They are restricted in that they have to pass it along to the Syrian bureaucracy that may or may not make it a priority. Travellers are reported as missing relatively frequently, so it's difficult to pick out which ones are serious, and which ones are just panicked parents.
The RCMP, the Canadian police force, are actively investigating and I just met with them two hours ago. Again, they face jurisdictional issues - we don't want Syrian police wandering through Canada investigating stuff without letting us know, so similarly, we need to work through the Syrian enforcement agencies for Syrian issues. This can add delays.
Many people have suggested contacting the media. This is an option we're seriously considering, but it has various repercussions. It will distract the people working on the case, and it will involve a lot of stress on the family as people follow up. And once something is unleashed to the media, you risk it going the wrong direction. At this point, we don't want the national media criticizing the government or RCMP, should that be the angle that is taken.
Later today I'm going to post some additional information regarding possible itineraries and hotels she might have stayed at. As a budget traveller, the places she would stay at don't normally have email, but I don't speak Arabic so I worry if I call that I won't be well understood. I'm hoping to find people in Syria who can call and ask, or otherwise find out. I'll be getting back to people who have responded with offers of assistance in this way.
I really appreciate everyone who is taking a moment to read this and wonder if they can help. I'll have more concrete ideas later today for people who want to help or have family/friends in the region.
April 29th UPDATE:
There is still no word, but we suspect she never made it out of Syria. The RCMP (Canada's police force) have involved Interpol (the nearest "local" police) and the FBI (to access her email records). Canada does have diplomatic relations with Syria,
and we're pretty certain she's not in a Syrian prison [CORRECTION: We have not heard from Syrian authorities]. She made no bank transactions after we last heard from her. It's not looking good.
Right now we're looking for ideas and people who are familiar with (or have family in) Syria. Even someone who could check local Syrian newspapers for bus or car accidents between March 29th and April 5th, or any other incident involving a female foreigner. Google isn't so good with local news in politically charged countries.
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