My Sister, Nicole Vienneau, Has Gone Missing in Syria - Updates from January 6th to 28th

January 28th (Evening):

Last week's post generated some interesting responses - people trying to figure out the puzzle of how Nicole could have disappeared given that she never seemed to be alone but no one reports seeing anything unusual. It was suggested that perhaps she never left the hotel but was snatched the night before while wandering the streets. This is certainly possible, but the items that were left behind exactly match what she would have brought on a day trip (I know from travelling with her for three weeks earlier that month) - so she would have had to pre-pack and then head out, and that wasn't her style.

One of my concerns with everyone's suggestions is that I almost always have an answer along the lines of "good idea, but it's unlikely because..." and then I list our facts and often our assumptions. I worry that one of our assumptions (or facts) is incorrect. As I realized while writing an email earlier, we were told "X" and assumed it to be true, but the person who told us "X" may not have had our best interests at heart. I do wonder what a fresh brain would make of all of this, but who wants to re-do all of our interviews (if that were still possible) and then slog through all the various notes and emails to compare?

Speaking of which, I wish we had a slightly tidier presentation of the salient details. The green writing at the top of the blog is supposed to be a quick overview, but people often ask for more detail. Some "details" are located throughout the official site (link above) but people on occasion dig deeper and want to know things like, "did we check who she called from her room?" As it turns out, hostels/hotels like the Cairo Hotel don't have phones in the rooms, but people won't know that. And if you check the "Can You Help?" link it says she sent emails on the Thursday (March 29th) but it's easy to miss the "Events to Date" entry for March 30th where Nicole attempted to email but kept disconnecting and we presume the Internet was down (relatively common in Hama). And even if you notice both, you still won't know what time she was doing these things, which makes it difficult to come up with accurate hypothesis on what might have happened (I believe it was about 8 at night, likely after eating).

The problem is that there are so many facts that it's tough to write them all out. And I'm pretty sure I couldn't think of them all without prompting - my brain is full of obscure details and memories from the past two years. As I mentioned in the interview a few weeks ago - it is so important to be organized from the beginning when all the information is first coming in. The problem is that all that information gives you hope that the search will soon be successful.

In the end, I really hope our search isn't being held up because someone saw something but doesn't want to say anything, or mis-led us in some way. That would be disappointing.

And I almost forgot - last week I was reading in the papers how the RCMP set up an elaborate (and I mean *elaborate*) sting to capture two guys involved in the murder of four RCMP officers in Alberta. I'd like to commend the RCMP on their work and raise an eyebrow at how impossible it was for the RCMP to, you know, call Syria for us back in May 2007 (which is what got me started in the first place). Or call us back when Nicole's gear was found. Or follow-up on a number of tips, ideas or Interpol requests. A lot of this is water under the bridge now, but it's a bit irking (yet also reassuring) to know that the RCMP *can* get the job done when they really want to (and the job is inside Canada).

January 27th (Evening):

I was working really late tonight, so I'm going to update tomorrow instead.

January 20th (Evening):

This week I was sent an email about another missing girl. The difference? Alison MacDonald has been missing for 27 years and her father is still searching for her. He's made 16 trips to Kashmir. The police closed the case a long time ago, but there was a possible lead back in 2007.

I'm not sure I've got the strength to do another 25 years of searching. It's depressing to think that after 27 years of searching, we could still be where we are right now.

A couple of old contacts from early in the search have contacted me recently. They've got me thinking about the basics - how did Nicole get grabbed?

Our search has been centred on the Cairo Hotel - the last place Nicole was seen. There's no evidence that she left the hotel, though we didn't get a chance to ask people until six weeks later and they may be reluctant to say anything. But she couldn't have been grabbed in the hotel because she would have fought and screamed and we've interviewed nearly all the guests and that's something people would have remembered.

The items she left behind with her pack strongly suggest she was heading out in the morning. It's possible she was pre-packed the night before and grabbed, but that wasn't her tendency - people tend to pre-pack the night before in their pajamas as they're going to sleep, not earlier in the evening followed by a walk around town or visiting with other guests. And if she was visiting guests, she couldn't have been grabbed without noise.

There are various "exotic" possibilities suching as using chloroform or the date rape drug to knock her out quietly. I hadn't really pondered that until now. She almost never drank anything but her own bottled water (and she drank lots of it) but juices and tea are often served as routine hospitality - could someone have drugged her? Perhaps someone at the hotel offered her some orange juice in the morning? I don't remember if the Cairo had a free breakfast.

Another alternative is that she got into a car with someone she knew. It could be another guest, but foreigners just don't tend to rent cars in Syria, though I guess it's possible. That leaves a local that she trusted. The walk to the bus pick-up area wasn't far enough for her to go out of her way to get a ride, or to do anything risky.

Another alternative is the park that is along the way. It's not completely impossible that she went out early, purchased some fresh food for breakfast and went to eat in the park where something happened. I don't think it's likely, but I guess it's possible.

In stories, or with puzzles, the answer always seems so impossible until it's explained to you. I can't help but wonder if there's an obvious answer to this that I just can't see.

January 14th (Evening):

I hope everyone got a chance to read the National Post article. It was quite good and covered the relevant information well. We thought they were aiming for a "what isn't the government doing for you" slant, but I guess after the interview they decided to go with more of an overview and thoughts on what to do if you're ever in this situation. I totally forgot to ask for them to include the website though - oops!

One suggestion that we were thinking of pushing is asking for the Prime Minister to get involved. We'll have to see if we can find some value in that (for us and for him). Working quietly behind the scenes doesn't seem to be getting us what we need, but that doesn't necessarily mean open confrontation is any better (or that we could get anyone from the PM's office to pay attention).

I did note that back on January 8th it was reported by the Toronto Star (and likely others) that "Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon says 'all resources' of the federal government, including the RCMP and the military, are focused on the search for two Canadian diplomats who went missing in Niger last month." I realize every situation is different and some are higher profile than others, but I don't believe any of the three or four Foreign Affairs that have come and gone in the past 18 months have every publicly commented on our search or indicated that "all resources" are focused on the search. It's a bit disappointing, and continues to show that you have to do everything yourself.

A helpful Syrian pointed out that if LiveJournal goes down (see my post from the 6th) I shouldn't move to Facebook because Facebook isn't generally accessible in Syria. I should have thought of that. I guess if the blog suddenly goes down for a prolonged period, check the official site and that will tell you where we've moved.

For some reason I'm totally exhausted tonight as well, so I'm going to stop here. I'll try to respond to some emails later this week.

January 13th (Evening):

I got distracted tonight and didn't get a chance to update until too late (I'm tired) so I'm going to do the update tomorrow.

January 10th (Evening):

An entire article was written about our search and you can read it in today's National Post, or online here or here (I believe they are identical, but one is dated Friday).

I thought the interview was part of a larger piece, but it appears we were able to get an article all for ourselves.

January 8th (Evening):

This morning I did a lengthy interview with Charles Lewis from the National Post as part of a larger article he is writing about missing Canadians. He believes it will be published on Saturday - if the schedule changes I will post an update here.

January 6th (Evening):

Last night I spent two hours at my mom's house going through old emails that had been sorted and organized by my step-father. In two hours, I'm not sure I made it much past June 2007. There was a lot going on in those first two months of searching, including my visit to Syria. I can see my frustration with various officials/police here in Canada for the slow progress (my original inspiration for searching myself) and you could see various players come into the scene as "high hopes" only to eventually fade away. There have been a lot of people involved in this.

But as my step-father and I both agreed, it's painful to read through it all. Not so much for the emotional turmoil, which we're both used to, but because we've lived nothing but this search for the past 18 months and we're really tired, and neither of us wants to immerse ourselves in it even more. I really appreciate the past week of work he's done pulling out the key bits of information.

On a more positive note, out of the blue a cousin of mine in Alberta sent me an email today describing some of her interactions with Nicole when she was younger, and an amusing story about covering up misadventures while they were both visiting with my dad. It was really great to read some new tales and be reminded of Nicole's mischievous side. Nicole moved out West when she was about 18 (I was away at university at the time) so I didn't get to see much of her once we were grown. I like hearing stories about what she was up to.

Moving on to more mundane technical matters, there is a rumour that LiveJournal, which hosts this blog, is having financial trouble. It's just a rumour, but I guess there's a chance that the website could suddenly go dark. I'm not really sure what I'd do then, though I did back everything up (including all the comments) earlier this afternoon. I guess at that point I might move this to Facebook, I'm not really sure. Either way, if it goes dark, it doesn't mean we've found Nicole or anything - I can assure you that any success, either positive or negative, will be fully shared here.

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