My Sister, Nicole Vienneau, Has Gone Missing in Syria - Updates from December 4th to 30th

December 30th (Morning) :

There's only one day left in a year that I suspect my entire family would rather have not happened. It's strange to think that 2007 will always be "the year that Nicole disappeared". Hopefully 2008 will be "the year that Nicole was found", but I'm facing the increasingly grim possibility that it will just be another year of disappointment.

Understandably, the past week as provided no new information or leads. A Cairo Hotel guest from Lithuania emailed to say she stayed there right before Nicole disappeared, but didn't notice anything unusual. It's good to know that the word is still reaching new people, as that means there may still be someone out there with information if only they knew we wanted it. It does seem unlikely however - I feel that this will only be resolved by the Syrians themselves.

I'm going to cut this entry short - with nothing solid to mention, I'd just be getting everyone down again! I just wanted to check in so that everyone knew the updates were going to keep coming. A Happy New Years to everyone, may next year be better than this one.

December 23rd (Evening) :

This will be my last post before Christmas as various family events keep me away from the Internet. Despite being busy, nothing seems to stop thoughts of Nicole making their way into my head whenever I pause for even a moment. As long as I don't think about it, it doesn't bother me, but I haven't been able to stop thinking about it recently. Is she out there, all alone in some horrible place, wondering if we're still looking for her? After all this time, does she think we've given up? If she's being held some place, do her captors taunt her with news that we're looking and can't find her, or do they tell her we've tried and given up and no one will ever rescue her?

Has she been dead for nine months now and all our searching has been for nothing? Is there a very frightened person or family somewhere in Syria, desperately hoping we'll never find them because there was an accident and the government will never forgive them if they're found? Are there evil men out there who feel no remorse and continue on with their lives, uncaring about those of us that are hurt? Are there officials who know the truth, but are hiding it from us, out of greed or spite or fear?

And it's not just the current situation I think about. I also think about the last horrifying moment when Nicole realized that things had gone terribly wrong. Was she in a car with someone, sensing things were off as they headed into a more remote region than expected? Was it like an event recent described to me by another traveller: a friendly gentleman in a suit who after several hours of travelling together, suddenly hit her in the head with a rock at the ruins? Or was it a sudden car accident that she didn't even have time to think about?

There are still so many possibilities - after all this effort and time, we haven't been able to rule anything out. Perhaps it was as one psychic described and a man stumbled across her while she was peeing behind a dune!

These are the things I think about randomly while going about my day. It kind of sucks the joy of things, but I do my best not to reflect on it. Back in May, I could ignore those thoughts, knowing that we were doing everything we could and finding her would surely happen soon. But now there's no backup - I'm thinking the thoughts, and there's no solution in sight. Makes it tough to get excited about the holidays.

To avoid sending you back to your festivities on a depressing note, "The Province" out in Vancouver "published a year-end update on the search for Nicole". They've been really good about keeping up to date on the story and publicizing it as much as they can. The Province asked the same question as various other media outlets: "what can people do to help?" Unfortunately, I've run out of ideas. People are still sending out emails and hunting down the few remaining guests and offering to translate things, but we've run out of media to contact, guests to find, and things to translate. We're just sitting here waiting.

Sigh.

December 20th (Evening) :

It's been a busier week than usual, though I'm not sure we have a lot more to show for it.

My mom emailed me on Monday night at 11pm to say that she was heading to Ottawa the next morning to meet with the Syrian Ambassador and get some paperwork ready for a potential trip to Syria in 2008. She apparently expressed her dismay at the lack of progress with the Syrian investigation quite vigourously, though I'm not certain how well that will transmit back to Syria. The Ambassador pointed out, as have others, that this is an extremely unusual situation. Your average Syrian just wouldn't consider such a crime, and the police would quickly find any who did. This led my mom to share the obvious conclusion: doesn't that mean the police had to have been involved?

But before you get too excited by that theory, allow me to share an interesting point made by someone at work today. If the police and government (or even the hotel) were involved and wanted to cover things up, why did they leave Nicole's belongings? The hotel openly admitted that they had her gear when I called them back in May, and seem relieved that someone had finally asked about Nicole. If there was a grand conspiracy, wouldn't the police have taken away everything and told everyone to keep it quiet? The search would have been much more difficult.

I realize that it's not quite that simple. It could be a small rogue group of officers or soliders. It could be that removing the gear would just make it obvious the police took her (though really, why would they care if we found out?). As always, it's just a lot of theorizing and no facts. But the Syrian Ambassador's theory is that she was taken by a lone individual who is likely still keeping her alive somewhere. He doesn't think even a body could be missing for this long in Syria.

On a different note, "The Province" out in B.C. called out of the blue yesterday for an interview. As the end of the year approaches, they wanted to highlight the story once again. Hopefully a link (and the interview) will appear soon.

At the suggestion of a blog contact, I'm currently reading "The Gates of Damascus" by Lieve Joris. It was written in 1996 and describes the authors experiences as a French woman living with a friend in Damascus. So far it paints a vaguely depressing image of the country as filled with secret police and corruption. This matches many of the experiences related to me by ex-patriate Syrians. I'm not an expert by any means, but I believe things are better now. It certainly looked that way to me when I was there. It does give another valuable perspective on the situation.

December 14th (Noon) :

I finally reached Robert Fisk! While the original number provided by two separate people didn't work, a subsequent number connect me to him. Robert is an interesting fellow and had no time or concerns for anything that was being done on the Internet. Unfortunately, I'm not sure if he'll be able to help, but I did leave my number with him. I'm also not sure if he's still writing for the Independent (or somewhere else?) but if anyone spots an article in the next week or so that mentions Nicole, please let me know. My intent was to get ideas for new leads more than publicize, but quite frankly, I'm happy with either.

December 13th (Evening) :

It's been a week since the last (guest) post. I suspect that will be the schedule for the next little while barring any sudden leads. I've gone and accepted a real job after 15 years of being a self-employed consultant so my available hours will greatly diminish, but the real reason is the lack of information to post every day.

A friend submitted our story to CBC's "Search Engine", and they mentioned in on today's podcast. You can download the podcast here. Nicole is mentioned at about 22:22 until roughly 24:00.

In the blog comments I've been asked about contacting Dan McTeague. A volunteer wrote his office and I was copied on the response, and it turns out Mr. McTeague knew my father as well. Our understanding was that Dan was going to bring this issue up at higher levels and meet with various folks, but we've had trouble getting a hold of him for details.

Another volunteer gave me a new mobile number for Robert Fisk. I need to call in the morning due to the time zone differences and I keep rushing off to work. I'm hoping to remember tomorrow morning.

CB Richard Ellis, where Nicole used to work, sent out an email to all 1500+ of their employees earlier this week just to remind them that Nicole was still missing and ask people to help if there's any way they can. The gesture is much appreciated.

A comment was also left in the blog regarding contacting the President of Syria. We are in the process of trying to do that, but with all that's going on in the Middle East these days, I can understand if we're not the highest priority at the moment. We remain hopeful, however.

On a more cheerful note, something which I feel the blog needs more of, for those of you who are interested, my lovely girlfriend and I are hosting our annual holiday party this coming Saturday evening. We haven't really been able to promote it like we usually do, and I'm sure I've forgotten to invite lots of people, so if you want to come out and you're in the Toronto area, let me know - we have room for 40 more people!

December 6th (Evening) :

(Posted by my mother)

Today is Nicole’s birthday.

I asked Matt if I could be a ‘guest’ blogger today. It seemed like a fitting day to take the opportunity to thank everyone for everything they have done over the past 8 months to support the family in trying to find Nicole -- from the close family and friends that have been there to ‘prop’ me up to our new international friends who have been a tremendous help in progressing the search. A heartfelt thanks to all.

But the one person who deserves a great deal of recognition is Matthew himself. Once it was obvious to us that Nicole was missing, Matt took charge and never looked back. He has doggedly pursued every angle possible in the search. We sit at family supper on Sunday discussing possibilities and theories. The next thing I know Matt has followed up and has answers, or at least has put actions in place. He is amazing. We may not have found Nicole yet, but there is some comfort in knowing that we have done pretty well everything that we can think of – largely due to Matt’s efforts.

From the day she was born 33 years ago, Nicole has been a going concern -- never a dull moment when she’s around. Nicole is a practitioner of the philosophy ‘work hard – play hard’. On the work hard side, she has been gainfully employed since she was 11 years old and has 2 university degrees, one in fine arts and one in applied business. On the play hard side, Nicole hikes, bikes, skis, snowboards, scuba dives, climbs mountains, plays soccer, sings, plays piano, cooks, camps, paddles, and enjoys just about every outdoor activity there is. She also likes to travel, to explore the different cultures and rich histories of other lands. She started her world travels at 18 years old and at last count, Nicole has been to over 50 countries in the world. Just what went wrong in Syria, we may never know.

Personally, I am appealing to anyone who has information about her disappearance to let us know. Someone in Syria does know what has happened. And probably more than one person since it would have required more than one person to ‘take’ Nicole as she would not have gone willingly or quietly. The reward is still out there. Rest assured, anyone who does provide us any information, will be duly compensated.

I cannot put in words how painful the past few months have been, not knowing where my daughter is or whether she is still alive. A nightmare from which there is no relief. Even if something tragic has occurred, I will find no peace until I bring her home. I am not interested in retribution, I just want her back.

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

December 6th (Morning) :

A quick post before I head off to work.

Wired magazine has posted an article on our search for Nicole and it's the headline feature on the main page. They are a US-based media company, so hopefully this might lead to more coverage in the States and internationally. I'm not sure if they still have a print version and whether it too will contain the story but if you see one, please let us know.

December 4th (Evening) :

It's Nicole's 33rd birthday on December 6th. Understandably, this is casting a pall over everyone, particularly my mother. To add to the woes of early December, my father passed away on December 1st just three years ago leaving very little to be cheery about. My apologies to everyone for not responding to too many emails these days - I just haven't been in the mood to do much at all.

We've received confirmation of what I've long suspected but in hopefulness denied - the Syrians are not the best at passing along information to different police, security and government agencies. They continue to be surprised when we or our representatives bring up basic knowledge during meetings such as, "we know what Nicole was doing during the days leading up to her disappearance". This is information that we've had for over six months and have posted on the official site for anyone to review and retrieve.

Our error is in assuming that the Syrians would have reliable and easy access to the Internet and would know to use it as a resource. The reality is likely that the connections are poor, they may not be allowed to access the site, they may not be used to using the web as an investigative tool (especially front line staff), and they may have looked at the site before we set up Arabic translations and then never returned, assuming it was no good to them.

End result - there's no guarantee that the Syrians haven't found some clue but just not realized it. Each time we bring up something "new", they get very excited as if that opens up doors to new leads, but that means they weren't following up on those leads earlier like we expected. Not so good.

And even when we give all this information to one person, there are no guarantees that it will get passed along to the next officer or police station or region. They don't have work email addresses where they can easily send documents back and forth, and the offices don't have a computer on every desk. It's photocopying and mailing for the most part.

And it's not so much that we didn't realize the limitations of available resources, it's more that we hoped the much vaunted security forces would have access to better stuff and more organization. It is times like these where I find it easy to doubt the claims that the Syrian secret police "know everything". I have no doubt that local officials know their region, but passing that information up the chain and laterally to other units seems a lot more difficult.

I guess the best light to view this in is that there may still be clues revealed as more people get all the information. We're hoping to put together a paper package for my mom to bring to Syria that can be easily photocopied and shared. I wish I had thought of this back in May!

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