My Sister, Nicole Vienneau, Has Gone Missing in Syria - Updates from April 5th to June 16th

June 16th (Evening):

Still no movement on the search for Nicole. We may meet with some people this week that specialize in getting government attention. Try and generate some activity on the Canadian side in hopes of pushing the Syrians to do more.

I've been distracted by some other activities so I haven't really put a lot into the search this month. My effort is really waning, but it's been over two years, I may have given all that I've got.

June 1st (Evening):

I missed my self-imposed bi-weekly schedule, but there hasn't been anything to say. The official website was down briefly because our domain name registration expired after two years. It's back up now.

As far as I am aware, we've received no news from Syria since Mom was there in March. When we're in Syria, everyone is rushing around doing things and promising to help, but as soon as we leave all our questions go un-answered. The Embassy isn't leaping at the chance to help, the Syrian police don't like to respond directly or unofficially, and there's almost no one we can trust in Syria anymore. We're all very down with the thought that this could be a cover-up of some sort and we'll never be able to find out what happened.

May 15th (Evening):

I've been following the case of Victoria Stafford, a local 8-year old that went missing just over a month ago. One of the reasons I have been following the story is that it is in the news every few days. This is because her mom is holding a press conference outside their home every day.

It appears to work - their Facebook group has over 122,000 people! I believe I read that there were 88,000 messages.

A month or two into the search, we were given the FBI's guide to finding missing people. It included tips on how to keep the search in people's minds and press conferences was one of them. The Stafford family has fully embraced this route. The problem for us was that it's a lot of stress and effort, and it seems strange to be making a spectacle every day. This isn't a criticism of the Staffords, it's a commentary on the difficulties of asking for help and making our problems someone else's problem. We're not used to it, and were uncomfortable with arranging vigils and so on. That is one of the many reasons why the two fundraisers organized by others were so fantastic - it didn't feel like we were doing it.

88,000 messages also comes with drawbacks. The newspapers are reporting how writers are suggesting the family is involved in the disappearance. Early on we had saw some really offensive comments in various blogs, but that's just the nature of the Internet. It's anonymous, so people say things they wouldn't say in real life. The Facebook site seems to have taken down the option to post comments as a solution. I think message boards allow people to become a little bit more engaged.

122,000 is a lot of people. I would be very surprised if this website has received even 50,000 hits, though I really have no idea. Once again, it felt "cheap" to be counting hits and so on, but it would have been a good idea. It would have let us keep track of waning interest, and possibly provided more factoids for our press interviews.

In the end, a local child is always going to generate more interest than an adult who disappeared in a foreign country. I do not think we would be much closer to finding Nicole if we had 50,000 more hits.

Another local search, for Christina Calayca, a 20-year old who disappeared while jogging in Rainbow Falls Provincial Park, ended about six weeks ago. Not because they found her, but because after 20 months of searching, her mother has decided that it has to end. Support and resources are dwindling and she's exhausted. The interview with her in the Toronto Star on March 30th was the first one that really captured what we're going through - the endless search after most people's attention has moved on. And that same feeling of being unable to grieve without knowing for certain that Nicole is gone for good.

That being said, these past two weeks there have been a small surge of emails letting me know that people are still there for us, reading and hoping for the best. They are appreciated. Our regular volunteer translator in Syria continues to assist us within a day of any request - he is truly fantastic.

Much like the past two+ years, we continue to follow up on some leads and try to work with Foreign Affairs and the Syrian police to find Nicole. It's a lot of work though, especially for my mom.

May 3rd (Evening):

A couple people have wondered whether my step-father accompanied my mother and Gary to Syria last month. He did indeed go with them. He is a key player in the search, tracking all the information (an increasingly burdensome duty) and organizing the trips and so on. He is also the person responsible for the official website. The search would have foundered years ago without his assistance. I tend to only mention a few people here by name in order to maintain privacy.

My mother also brought two advisors/experts to Syria with her to help with various investigation efforts. They are expensive, but invaluable.

Over in Syria, my mom was informed this week that there has been a cabinet shuffle. There is a new Minister of the Interior and Minister of Justice. The most significant impact is that any change like this means bringing people up to speed once again. And it's difficult to get anyone's attention or committment as they are learning the ropes. As the personnel in Syria have changed over the past two years, we've seen how searching for Nicole sometimes slips in priority.

The earlier optimism right after the trip to Syria has dimmed. Over the past two years many ex-Syrians have indicated that we're going to be led around on wild goose chases and we'll never get the truth out of the authorities. We've maintained hope that people are willing to help and find Nicole, but are starting to see evidence that some officials may not be as upfront as we would prefer. Mix that with the diplomatic dancing of Foreign Affairs, and it can get very frustrating.

April 26th (Noon):

I have returned from my 3-week honeymoon. It was a welcome break from all Nicole-related items. It wasn't a complete break however - I continued to check emails and keep in touch with everyone as circumstances permited. I was also reminded of Nicole every so often as my last big trip was with her in Egypt and Jordan. The various rituals of travel (planning out your adventures, figuring out where you're going to eat) are the same from trip to trip, and we also did quite a bit of hiking, much like we did with Nicole, so memories re-surfaced.

Despite the rush of activity when Mom and Gary were in Syria three weeks ago, nothing concrete has resulted yet. As always, everything moves slower than hoped. I may also be out of the loop a bit - tonight I'll have dinner with mom and get any additional updates.

Given the lack of new information coming through, I'm going to shift to a bi-weekly update schedule on the blog. I realize this will diminish readership, but there just isn't enough information to justify weekly posts. Of course, should something significant happen, it will be posted immediately.

April 5th (Morning):

Mom and Gary are back from Syria. I went over to mom's for an early morning review of the trip before Gary hopped on a flight back to Vancouver. The overall feeling was positive - the Syrians are fully engaged (even more than before) and there's a real sense that progress is being made in discovering what happened. New information was uncovered (but needs to be verified) and we continue to learn more about how Syria works.

Still no Nicole though.

We always have this feeling after these trips (this being the 3rd). Keeping that in mind, we're still more confident that this trip will "stick" now that Mom has returned. The Syrians will continue investigating some new avenues and keep us updating on what has been found.

Tonight I'll have a lengthier conversation with Mom and get the rest of the details. We had planned on releasing some additional information this week but those plans may be on hold as we don't want to jeopardize our investigations in Syria.

As an unrelated aside (honest!), I may be unavailable for much of the next few weeks. Updates will be sparse. Should anything significant happen, we will make sure to let everyone know.

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