My Sister, Nicole Vienneau, Has Gone Missing in Syria - Updates from December 2nd to 30th

December 30th (Evening):

As another year draws to a close I find myself more and more reluctant to get engaged with the search. I don't respond to as many emails as I used (and there are a lot fewer than there were) and it's hard to muster up the enthusiasm to follow up on obscure leads or continue hounding people for answers. I was pondering this gradual change in attitude and I realized it all comes down to one thing:

Futility.

After so many good leads and ideas that went nowhere you can't help be be disheartened. After 18 months of "investigation" and "slowly grinding justice" it became difficult to believe that good things will happen (or even bad things, as long there are "things"). Each time a possibility or contact opens up, I'm immediately drowning in previous failures and wasted efforts and it immobilizes me. And then there's the guilt of not doing enough, and it paralyzes even further.

It's not a fun situation. But I don't think anyone ever thought it would be.

We go into 2009 hoping for a break in the case. Hopefully the Syrians will begin assisting us and our investigation again. Hopefully the Canadians will continue to offer their support and aid. Hopefully the guilty party will slip-up or reveal something that will get back to us. All that my mother, Gary and I want is to know what happened so that this will finally end.

December 23rd (Evening):

Another Canadian (Ani Ashekian) has gone missing in circumstances very similar to Nicole's but this time in Hong Kong. A friend sent me this link and there's a YouTube video and Facebook page as well. The similarities have brought back a lot of suppressed emotions - another experienced solo traveller, the family doesn't hear from her for a few weeks (her last known movements are November 10th) and then she misses her flight home. Every detail in the story is familiar to me - we have done it all, including the YouTube video, missing person posters and Facebook groups. As I read the additional details I see they've set up a Trust, they're excited about clues such as credit card activity, and they're trying to get translators and contact Hong Kong media. It's all hauntingly familiar. I hope they have more success than we have but I have an absolutely horrible feeling that it is too late and I empathize both with what they are going through now, and what I know they will go through later.

We had a moment of excitement this week when the CIBC fraud unit called Gary to talk about Nicole's credit card. We were desperately hoping that someone had tried to use the card and we'd finally have some new clues, but instead it was an unrelated case of a number of cards being compromised here in North America and Nicole's possibly being one of them, despite not being used for nearly two years. I suspect the CIBC should have some sort of flag on Nicole's account as they once again stumbled a bit in handling the situation. The call centre staff person refused to say what was going on (likely because he/she didn't know) and apparently tried to send my mom (thinking she was Nicole?) a new card to replace the compromised one. A fairly common case of one part of the company not talking to the other - it happens all the time.

My mother has written another letter to the President of Syria appealing for assistance in overcoming the setbacks back in September that resulted in us cancelling her visit. As she wrote a few weeks ago, mom is hoping to return very soon, but without guarantees from the Syrians that certain people will be available to meet with, there is no point in us returning and only being frustrated. That being said, we don't want anyone to think that by keeping things from us, we'll give up on the search.

Back in August a Canadian journalist (Amanda Lindhout) was kidnapped in Somalia (see my August 26th update). And in September I mentioned how Macleans had an article on the situation (the September entries are in the process of being archived and aren't available at the moment). My family reminded me this week that she is still missing, three months later. I had almost totally forgotten about that situation which was a startling insight into how easy it is for Nicole's situation to disappear from people's minds. If it's not in the media every so often, it's very easy to lose track of stories like these. It reinforces how important it is to keep updating the blog and keeping people interested.

I also thought the Somalia situation would be resolved much more quickly given that it was a kidnapping with a group or person presumably looking for money. It appears I was wrong. They're having trouble figuring out what happened to Canadian Robert Fowler in Niger last week as well. Apparently no disappearance is easy to resolve, no matter how high a profile, which I guess should be clear to me by now given they still have no leads on Madeleine McCann who went missing a month after Nicole and received much more coverage and attention.

December 16th (Evening):

As I'm sure everyone noticed, my mother unexpectedly wrote the update for last week. It was nice to get the break and let her fill people in on some of what we're doing, and where the donations are going. To remind everyone again, if you have donated and not heard back from my mother, please let me know and we'll figure out the problem. Sometimes my mom and I mix up the lines of communication and she thinks I've responded and I think she's responded, and sometimes we don't have an address to go with the donation.

As has become common, I face a blank screen on a Tuesday night with nothing to update everyone on. In search of inspiration, I used to go through emails, but there aren't too many of those recently. Tonight I did some Googling on terms relating to our search, on the off chance something I missed before might be found. It always astounds (and comforts) me to see the number of blogs and travel boards that linked to our search, especially in those early days. It's both touching and depressing to see all the people asking for information on our behalf, and yet we can't find what we need.

One site that I found is both cool and creepy. It's a site that lets you search for people's picture. I tried both Nicole's name (both spellings) and my own and it actually worked. I'm not planning on turning this blog into a commercial for other sites, I just didn't expect to find something like that on the 20th page of search results.

On a more relevant note, a Canadian working with the UN was kidnapped yesterday in Niger. Unlike our situation, not only do they know pretty much what happened, they have people claiming responsibility. How we wish for someone to claim responsibility so that we could at least have an idea of what happened that morning in March!

December 6th (Evening) Nicole's 34th Birthday :

(Posted by my mother)

Once again it is Nicole’s birthday.

It is hard to believe that it is already a year since her last birthday and now over 20 months since she went missing. These have been the longest months of my life and yet they have gone by all too quickly.

I thought I would take this opportunity to share with you as much as I can about what has been happening over the past year. The team that has been actively assisting in the search consists of the Syrian authorities, the Canadian embassy in Damascus, 2 lawyers in Damascus, 2 lawyers in Canada, our accountant, a private investigation firm and of course the family. The following is a synopsis of what we now know.

Nicole tried to log on to hotmail at 8:30 pm on Friday March 30 at the internet café around the corner from the Cairo hotel where she was staying. She was seen back at the hotel shortly thereafter by 2 American tourists. After this, the only person to say that he saw her is the hotel clerk who says she came in after 11 pm(??) and then left Sat. March 31st around 8:30 am to go site seeing.

The hotel notified the police that she was missing sometime between April 2nd and April 4th. On April 6th they took her things out of her room and started to rent out the room again. The room was not checked by the police and ‘forensics’ were never done.

We did learn that the ‘political’ police were looking for her as soon as the hotel reported her missing. They needed to determine if she was a political threat. Once they determined that she was ‘just a tourist’ they stopped looking for her. At no time did the Syrians inform the Canadian embassy that a Canadian was missing.

Syria is a police state. The policing/judicial system is quite unlike anything that we are familiar with. It appears that the police interview but do not investigate. We discovered that there are no real private investigators in Syria. There are a select few criminal lawyers who are allowed to ‘investigate’ as we know the term and we have been fortunate to have one helping us since January. Our attempts to have our experts assist in the investigation in Syria have met with limited success.

We no longer believe that she might have been kidnapped by a political group operating in the area. There have been no real ransom demands, just extortion attempts. The search/investigation is now focused in just Hama.

Although it has been painfully slow, we have made progress. When our trip in October got postponed, it was quite a setback, but we are still trying to be get over to Syria in the next month or so, hopefully to finally get some answers. Personally, I am appealing to anyone who has information about her disappearance to let us know. The reward is still out there for information. Rest assured, anyone who does provide us any information, will be duly compensated.

Once again I would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone for everything they have done to support the family in trying to find Nicole. A heart felt thanks to all.

Not a day goes by without thoughts of Nicole filling my mind. A nightmare from which there is no relief. Even if something tragic has occurred, I will find no peace until we bring her home. I am not interested in retribution, I just want her back.

So again Nicole, wherever you are, Happy Birthday Sweetheart. We all love you and miss you terribly.

Love you forever, Mom

December 2nd (Evening):

This Saturday is Nicole's 34th birthday. We saw nothing of her 34th year, and out of the family, I believe only I saw her during her 33rd due to the length of her trip. She's been gone a long time.

Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of my father's unexpected death from pancreatic cancer, so the first week of December is not a family favourite.

Last year at this time, my mom posted here in the blog. Going with the "guest" author theme - if you have a memory or story about Nicole that you haven't shared already, feel free to post it here on the blog, or email it to me. It doesn't need to be long or detailed, or even particularly interesting - tell me how you met her if you'd like. I'm feeling a bit maudlin and in the mood for Nicole reminders, though I suspect it will just get me a bit down to read them. The holiday season is busy with events so I know I'll quickly snap out of it with all the distractions.

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