My Sister, Nicole Vienneau, Has Gone Missing in Syria - Updates from June 1st to 29th

June 29th (Evening):

On Friday we received a request from the Syrians for my mother to appear in their offices in Hama/Damascus on Monday with regards to the new development I mentioned a few updates ago. On the plus side, it's good to know that things are happening, on the minus side, there's no way my mom can get to Damascus with 48 hours notice. Our understanding of the Syrian justice system, and it may be incorrect, is that with no one "pushing" for a crime to be solved, no investigating is done. Thus, if someone goes missing and no one asks about it, or wants charges laid, then no one goes and looks for them. It's an economic form of policing, but has certainly thrown us off a bit. We suspect this is why mom has been asked to appear. But at $3,000 a ticket, and mom won't travel there by herself, it's just not that easy.

Early this week I had another dream where Nicole was found and I excitedly get to tell her all the things we've been doing to find her. I haven't had one of these in a long while. This time my dream self was aware that it was quite some time, as I seemed surprised that she was found. In all of these dreams, Nicole never seems to think there is much to fuss about, which was often her way - I'd fuss, she's roll her eyes. I realized after this dream that I could potentially be looking at decades of nights like that. Do people who have lost loved ones dream about them forever?

June 21st (Noon):

I received the following email from my stepfather on Monday:

"seeing donations to the trust today all of a sudden !!- then I checked your blog for yesterday ....."

While I haven't yet checked the numbers myself, based on comments I've received, it sounds like people are once again being generous and assisting us. The family is exceptionally grateful to all the people that have helped in countless different ways this past year and a bit. I continue to be surprised by the emails I receive - it seems like quite a few are from other provinces or countries or continents. I just wish I had some news for people!

I've begun encountering a new situation recently - people who have entered my life but don't know anything about Nicole. After a year of everyone knowing about it, it's always unexpected when I realize someone isn't aware. It has led to one or two confusing situations where I've assumed they knew what I was talking about. It also leads to more situations where I have to explain the whole search and so on, but that's still rare enough that's it not too much of an issue. The hardest part for me is watching people struggle to figure out what to say. I want to assure them that I have a thick skin so they're very unlikely to offend me, and I've had hundreds of people speak to me about it, so I know what they're going through. For people who aren't expecting to hear it, it's not surprising that the right words are difficult to find. Heck, I still don't know what the perfect response is to someone who says, "my sister/daughter/partner has been missing in Syria for a year" so I suspect there isn't one to find.

Not much real news to report this week. The Canadian Embassy in Syria continues to assure us that the Syrians are investigating what needs to be investigated, with a renewed vigour since Mom's visit back in April. Mom has accepted that she may need to return a third time as her presence seems to be a significant motivator, but they are hard trips, especially in the hot summer months.

June 15th (Evening):

The trust has run out of money.

Before anyone panics, this does not mean that the search will end. Nicole had a bit of an inheritance being saved for her future (eg. a house down payment) that we can use (I suspect she won't mind), and we have our own savings to dig into. Should Nicole be found and a reward required, the money will be found to pay it - never fear.

But we have spent the donations from the incredibly generous people that were able to help last year either directly or through the two fundraisers. Some of it was for the trips to Syria, most of it was for investigators (or their Syrian equivalent). The kind of help we need is not gotten cheaply.

I have not spoken of the investigators before out of necessity - we didn't want to interfere with the investigations, some of which are still ongoing. But it didn't seem fair to say, "we're out of money" without at least providing a reason why. I don't want people to think the trust money is being spent frivolously.

In that vein, there was a relatively significant development back in April while Mom was in Syria. This development is still being followed up on, and we have some compelling evidence that it's a solid lead. Of course, we thought that about the body a few weeks ago as well, and that is one of the reasons we need to keep the details quiet for now. It's frustrating for me to not be able to share, and I suspect it's frustrating for those reading this, but there are too many reasons why we have to keep things within the family.

If you are interested in donating to the trust (or donating again), the donation information is here and the link is also above in the green "Summary" information. I haven't mentioned the trust in months because I'm not comfortable doing so, but mom mentioned it last week at dinner and so it seemed like a good time to bring it up again.

In other news, I have continued to receive short "we're still reading" emails from people around the globe. Very much appreciated. I have passed a few of them on to my mother. I have the advantage of seeing all the emails and knowing that people are still reading, but I had forgotten that my mother misses out on those reminders so at times it can feel awfully lonely.

I also appreciated all the suggestions regarding my resumé. The opportunity is a bit of a stretch given my current position, but if my submission is compelling enough to get me accepted, I'll be sure to let everyone know.

June 7th (Evening):

The dessicated body found several weeks ago beside the Orontes river in Syria is not Nicole's.

That is the new development that has turned out, after several tense weeks, to be un-related to our situation. We were informed a few weeks ago that an unidentified female skeleton of approximately the right age, that appeared to have died approximately one year ago, had been discovered near a village in the Hama region. The skeleton was missing both feet, the right shoulder and arm, the left forearm and the neck. The skeleton was wearing a full woollen dress and head scarf, and the body was bound up in elastic cord. It seems possible that the body was weighted down in the river until the tissue deteriorated sufficiently that the ankles snapped and the body floated free and got caught at a sharp turn in the river. As details slowly emerged while we thought this was Nicole, some horrible scenarios went through our minds.

In order to identify the skeleton, dental and likely DNA records would need to be sent. Fortunately, the RCMP had collected dental records last year when the case was transferred to the major crimes unit and they rushed the records to Ottawa so they could be couriered to Syria. Unfortunately, the process from Ottawa to Syria took well over a week. Unfortunately as well, the RCMP does not have their lab do a DNA scan until there is evidence to compare it too, and there can be significant delays in that process due to backlogs at British Columbia forensic labs. There were further delays as various requests for information floated around both unofficially and officially, with Syrian officials at one point contacting me directly for DNA information. I have to admit, I have been impressed with the Syrian response to this situation - they seem very determined to figure out what happened.

But it's not Nicole - the teeth don't match. Two weeks of false hopes thinking this was finally over (and I realize yet again how odd it must seem to be disappointed not to find one's sisters' body) and I'm still having trouble getting my mind around having to continue searching. Fortunately, there are no new leads, so there isn't much for me to do.

On that note, a number of small "we're still reading" emails continue to arrive, and as long as no one expects a response, I find it very gratifying. From family and friends to strangers in far away countries, it's good to know that people are still interested enough to check in once in a while.

To end off today, I have a bit of an awkward question for everyone. I am updating my resumé for a new opportunity with my current employer. I would like to mention some of the skills I've picked up during this search such as significant media/communications experience, organizing large numbers of volunteers, etc. But not only does it feel like I'm profiting from tragedy, I'm not sure how to include it. "Organized an international search for my missing sister" under "Other Activities" seems a bit melodramatic for a resumé. Does anyone have any suggestions? If so, I have until Tuesday evening to work it out.

June 1st (Afternoon):

About two weeks ago, we were informed that there was a possible new development in trying to determine what happened to Nicole. This would be a significant development that might finally end our search, though probably not in the positive way that remains an increasingly distant hope. At this point, the development remains unconfirmed, and has remained unconfirmed for much longer than I believe anyone on this side of the world expected, though I've come to expect delays any time I'm dealing with bureaucracy (both sides), governments (both sides), and Syria. I can't share this development just yet, but I will as soon as we know everything for certain.

Because the news was unconfirmed, it brought up a challenging question: Should the authorities contact us with leads that may end up going nowhere? Your first instinct may be "yes, of course they should - the family deserves to know what's going on". This is a view shared by my mother and, most of the time, myself. No one cares more about the situation than the family and we want to make sure that anything that does relate to our search is handled properly and as quickly as possible. Sometimes our perspective allows to see things that should be done that others might miss or not realize.

On the other hand, if the news turns out to be false, or not related, the family is set up for incredible disappointment. For the past two weeks I've been thinking that we may finally find some answers and that this seemingly endless quest will be resolved. Now, as more information is discovered, it may not. Or from my mother's perspective, for two weeks she has believed my sister to be certainly dead, taking away what little hope remained (though with the lack of confirmation, that hope has returned).

There is no easy answer to this situation. Looking back, I have appreciated the two weeks of thinking the search is over. I am now paying the price for that relief by experiencing the heaviness of heart that we still have to continue looking, a heaviness that is doubled by the lack of recent burden. I'd almost prefer to remain ignorant until everything is confirmed. Almost.

Recent events did have me facing that fact that it is very unlikely I will ever be able to tell Nicole about all that we've done to find her and the incredible support from around the world. I used to dream of that day in various forms and they were wonderful dreams.

I continue to hear from people who are still reading the blog, and that has been effective in encouraging me to not only continue posting, but to try and generate more subject matter. Whenever I feel like the search might be close to ending, I tend to slow down my efforts, and then I have to ramp them up again once the lead falls through.

One interesting comment from a traveller to Iran - apparently the blog is inconsistently blocked in Iran, and even when it's accessible, it only has the original posting with no photos. I find it amusing that my blog is apparently listed as political or troublesome in some way, but I don't expect that it impacts the search very much. Should we one day find Nicole in Iran, I may come to regret those words, but there is no evidence that that is what happened.

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