My Sister, Nicole Vienneau, Has Gone Missing in Syria - Updates from May 1st to 26th

May 26th (Evening):

I continue to receive comments and emails that people are still out there reading, all over the world. People who I spoke with last May, early on in the search, as well as people I've never spoken with before. They are all appreciated.

People have also written to remind me that updating regularly is important as it allows people to check in and keep up-to-date without having to ask me in person. This is very true.

There may have been a significant development in the case. We are in the process of getting confirmation from officials and people on the scene. I can't tell you anything more than that, so please don't ask. I probably shouldn't even be saying this much, especially if it turns out to be yet another disappointment, but I wanted to explain away the delay in updating - I was hoping to have news either way today. Should things resolve themselves in the next few days as expected, I will update again immediately.

May 18th (Afternoon):

A couple of people have left encouraging comments on the blog letting me know that they're still reading and following along, despite the lack of any real progress recently. I really appreciated hearing that, and I hope readers will bear with me during this dry patch of very little information. There are things happening in Syria and as soon as I'm able to talk about them, hopefully in connection with some sort of resolution to this entire affair, I'll feel a lot better. Of course, it could be yet another big disappointment, but I'm getting pretty used to that by now.

My girlfriend returned home safely from Africa on Tuesday. Having done the trip before, I knew it was safe, especially as she was with an organized group. But still, I'm sure it surprises no one that there was a small tinge of worry. When she was out of contact for 4-5 days as expected near the end of her trip, I knew not to worry, but it's can be hard to ignore the nagging thought that it could happen again. Fortunately, her trip was spectacular and I've already seen the videos of her bungee jumping and sliding down sand dunes at least twice.

May 11th (Noon):

Despite ten days having passed since my last update, I don't have much new to add. My mother and step-father have really taken over the search after their visit to Syria a few weeks ago, which is how I prefer it - much better to hand it off than to let it slide because I've burnt out. A lot of their work in Syria involved discussions of police investigations and so on, so there's not much I can report on given that police investigations don't work as well when everything is made public. But at least as a family we're learning what is and has been done, which is a big step.

A big mistake that we've made with this search is not understanding the Syrian criminal and justice system. With so many different branches of police, we were getting confused as to whether people were investigating or not. It turns out the political police were investigating at one point, but once they realized it wasn't a political matter, they stopped looking. Inter-police relations aren't such that they would then pass it on to the criminal police. And even with the criminal police, until we initiated various steps (that we weren't aware of until relatively recently), the case was treated as a missing person, not a criminal investigation, so the urgency and resources are different. And before that could happen, various legalities had to be observed that don't have any equivalent here in Canada.

Lessons learned? I'd like to say, "do your research", but I thought we were. We spoke with so many people both inside and outside of Syria, but no one ever mapped out how all of this works in Syria. Either because they weren't really aware, or because the rules are fluid, or because they assumed we knew. I suspect it's similar to here in Canada where you think from watching television that you just have to report someone missing for the helicopters and search dogs to mobilize and begin looking, but the reality is waiting times and documents to be signed before you can access Hotmail or bank account records.

I did get filled in on the Mawlid holiday, which fell on the day Nicole disappeared in 2007. To quote my contact:

"We celebrate Mawlid by going to the Mosque, we don't drink alcohol and we hear the story of Mohammad, the prophet; we donít go celebrating anywhere else and don't stay late that night; it's a normal day and usually in the region surrounding Hama (villages nearby) they don't celebrate this holiday at all."

I very much appreciate getting updated on this. The less frequently I update the blog, the more readers I lose, and the harder it becomes to find answers to any questions I might have. All part of the slow spiral towards acceptance of not finding answers and a possible end to the search. For me at least, my mom isn't close to giving up and we're hoping the visit to Syria really kick-started things.

My girlfriend (or fiance I guess, I'm still not used to that) returns from Africa on Tuesday - it will be good to have her back and hearing fantastic stories about her travels.

May 1st (Evening):

It's been a while since my last update - I decided I needed a bit of a break. Mom's trip to Syria was very stressfull and included many meetings with officials and police. She's also a nervous passenger and Syrian roads are not very organized or safe. Much progress was made with Syrian officials and they are investigating Nicole's disappearance very actively. We are hopeful that it will result in some information soon.

Once again I'd like to thank Etihad Airways for providing Gary with a free flight to Syria. While my mother was endlessly frustrated by the horrible service and problems with her Air Canada flights, Etihad was seamless. They contacted us way back in May or June of last year, and we are absolutely thrilled that they held their offer open until this year. The Trust is running out of money, so this helps a lot.

While mom was in Syria she did a variety of interviews and articles were written about her. One of my most helpful Syrian contacts, Mr. Hassan, did some searching and found these links:

1) From Lebanon, 21/04/2008

2) From Syria, 20/04/2008

3) From Saudi Arabia, July 2007

which is fantastic because it shows that our story is throughout the Middle East, but he couldn't find any additional Syrian links. We're hoping articles are in the paper versions of Syrian newspapers.

Gary found some articles about both a headless body and a charred body being discovered. Further translation revealed them to be male, and not Nicole. It's a strange feeling to be trolling through foreign newspapers for stories about murder and mayhem.

While doing my taxes this week (another reason for no update), I noticed that Nicole disappeared on a Muslim holiday - Mawlid. I'm pretty sure I knew that before, but I can't find any reference to it on the blog or in my notes. For one, that makes me worry about what else I've learned and since forgotten (really didn't expect this search to last so long) and two, does that make a difference? Were people out partying the night before the holiday? Are people up earlier or later than usual? If anyone has any experience with Middle Eastern celebrations of Mawlid, please fill me in. Could end up being totally irrelevant, but I like to check everything.

Several other possible leads and contacts have been reached, but none of them resulted in any new information. It's hard to generate enthusiasm for following up on anything these days - 13 months is a long time to be missing.

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