September 30th (Noon) :
It has been six months since Nicole disappeared on the last day of March. Over these past six months it has become a constant part of my life, like a nagging pain that will sometimes subside, but never fully go away. Back in May, I thought it would be a matter of weeks. By June I was thinking months. And by July, I wasn't sure we'd ever find an answer.
Last night I had a dream that mirrors my sense of futility. Once again, I dreamt that I found Nicole, and this time I thought to ask, but she refused to talk about what had happened. Other friends were present, and as I continued to question her, I said to them, "I have to be certain that this is real, that this isn't another dream". Then I woke up to discover it was. There have been so many disappointments that even in my dreams I need extra convincing, and it still leads to nothing.
We have found the "Powers" - Bill Bowers responded for the two of them saying they never encountered Nicole. Encouragingly, he did say that the American Embassy contacted his family, which is what they had told us. That is, they told us that they contacted various Americans, but would not tell us which ones. It's frustrating how much effort could have been saved on our part if the American Embassy would have just given us the names of the people they had already contacted.
In addition to the Bowers, we have a reasonably good lead on Aaron and Daria, the remaining American and Russian staying at the Cairo Hotel. I am beginning to lose hope that finding the remaining guests will help, given that we've found the ones we thought most important. That being said, one can never know which guest might have seen or heard something, so we'll continue to search.
I have not heard back from MSNBC.com after our interview, and can find nothing on their website. I hope that by finding the Americans, we have not removed the "hook" for the story in the United States. I pondered keeping the information quiet to allow us to get the increased media exposure, but that seemed unfair to our wonderful volunteers who have spent so many hours searching for people. Spending their own time and in some cases money to help us is the most amazing donation we could receive.
September 28th (Evening - Second Update) :
We have also found Vivian Robert-Nicoud (Citadel guest list) via his brother. Our recent new volunteer searcher realized that with a last name that obscure, it was possible that by contacting other people with a similar name that they might find them, and it worked! While Vivian is still travelling and not near the Internet, his brother got back to us that he does not remember meeting Nicole, an unfortunately all-too-common refrain these days.
As we were able to find the most important guests from the Citadel Hotel (the three that actually travelled with Nicole for a few hours), I have removed the photo links to the guest list. Nicole stayed at the Citadel Hotel from the 25th to the 28th, so it is unlikely that any other guests we find would be able to tell us what she might have been doing on the 31st, especially when the guests that spoke to her on the 30th are having trouble recalling anything significant.
It looks like she was heading exactly where we think she was heading, using public transit just like we had been told and would have supposed.
So what the heck happened to her?
September 28th (Evening) :
We have found Barbara Law! After almost five months of searching, she was discovered by our newest searcher who has been having such success. We also have a reasonable lead on Bill and Kathryn "Bowers", possible missionaries working in Syria - I will be sending them an email shortly.
Unfortunately, Barbara does not remember much of Nicole other than talking about visiting the Beehive Houses. This is still useful information as it tells us we're looking in the right direction, but it doesn't open up any new areas of investigation. We had been told that Nicole may have eaten a meal with "the Americans", but if that is the case, then it wasn't this particular group of Americans.
At this point, I'm a bit at a loss for leads to follow up on, though finding the other guests at the Cairo Hotel may still be helpful. I wouldn't spent too much time on the Citadel Hotel as that was days before her disappearance and not likely to lead to much.
Hotmail has just forced me to "upgrade" to their new version which, being a Microsoft product, is slower and more obnoxious. A particularly frustrating "feature" is deciding that most of the email I receive from contacts is spam. This it blocks the text "for my protection" requiring additional work to view them. I share this not only in frustration, but also to indicate that I may be a bit slower in responding in the next little while as I battle it out with Hotmail. I may begin forwarding emails to a new Google account that's a bit more user-friendly or something similar, but continue to contact email@example.com if you have tips or suggestions.
September 27th (Evening) :
We found "Mardos Fakse"! Her name is Meredith Fox and while she doesn't remember much about meeting Nicole, I have asked her to check with her friends (hopefully Barbara and Catherine Lu/Liu) in case they recall more of the conversation. Unfortunately, as I know from experience, it's easy to have "throw away" conversations with fellow travellers that you wouldn't remember six months later. It would be a bit too easy if someone clearly remembered Nicole saying, "by the way, tomorrow I'm going here with person X who I met, and his licence plate is..."
Ms. Fox was found with the help of a new searcher, Elizabeth, who has been on a run recently with finding possible guests via ties to Syria. I would like to thank absolutely everyone for their many attempts to try variants of "Fakse", and this success reveals yet again how distorted names can become after translation.
In less positive news, the "Kathy Powers" I was excited about two days ago is apparently not the person we are looking for. I am amazed at the coincidence that puts two people with the same name as ex-pats in Syria, but I'm not sure what else to believe.
In another slightly less strange coincidence, two people this week have brought up contacting "America's Most Wanted" and seeing if they'll put us on their show. They receive hundreds of requests each week, and we're not based in the United States, so I suspect this would be tricky to pull off, but if you think it might help, the contact information and how to send a case suggestion is listed here. Feel free to direct them to the blog and official website.
Similar questions have been asked about shows such as Fifth Estate and so on. Due to the low odds involved in getting their attention, I don't have the time to follow up on all the possible shows, but please don't let that stop you from contacting them yourself.
September 25th (Evening) :
While the final numbers on the fundraiser on Saturday are not yet complete, it looks like we've vastly exceeded our hopes by raising just over $16,000! This couldn't have been possible without all the hard work of our volunteers and the generousity of our sponsors. A handout with photos and a list of sponsors was given out at the event and here is a link (it's a large 1.2MB .pdf file that may take a while to load). A few names were inadvertantly left off of the flyer, so the family would like to mention them here:
Angela Jorge (Volunteer)
Coastal Ford Sales (Sponsor)
The Georgia Straight (Sponsor)
Sherilyn’s Bridal (Ottawa) (Sponsor)
And of course, so many thanks to all the people that attended and donated money and otherwise made for a wonderful event.
Seeing the pictures on the flier of Nicole so happy and vibrant and full of life threatens to break my carefully maintained self control. One of my coping mechanisms is that there are no photos of Nicole visible near my computer as it's just too much to handle. All the articles with pictures of Nicole, as well as the photos sent by friends, are right beside me for easy reference, but flat on a shelf so I can't see them unless I need to. Every time I see her I think, "Where are you?" and "Will I ever see you again?" Not conducive to staying calm and rationally processing emails and leads.
Speaking of leads, we're having a bit of success on the Cairo Hotel list today. A "Kathy Powers" was a teacher in Damascus that we believe we had found a week or two ago, but she had not responded to my email. It appears she may have returned to the U.S., so we're following up with the school with the help of a volunteer who knew a contact there.
A second volunteer has done some great detective work and it seems like that "Steve Julson" may be Steve Glisoni, a French archeologist working in Syria. We've deduced his email address from some articles on the web and I've sent off a letter. As opposed to working from the name outwards, this volunteer checked the website for the French Institute (IFPO) in Damascus to see if anything sounded like the names we are looking for. I'm incredibly impressed.
We've recently updated all the hotel lists, so for the people who are doing the guest searches, could you please review the lists quickly and see if there's anyone you've found that I haven't updated? I've started putting a * beside names where we've sent an email but haven't heard back yet. Once we've heard back, I remove them. Sometimes I read that we've found someone while at work, but by the time I get home to update things and respond, I forget to update the guest list. Or the email could still be in my "to be handled" box, as I'm starting to fall behind again after catching up earlier in the month.
A couple of people have mentioned the reward and having a different amount if Nicole is found alive and so on. The 1,000,000 SYP ($20,000 CAD/USD) reward is a maximum - if you find her alive, the trust will give you all the money. There are slightly lower amounts if she's not alive, smaller amounts if you find an item of hers, other amounts for specific information, and so on. This is all handled by the trust. And we don't care about your involvement - if she's been kidnapped, the kidnappers themselves could give her back to us and we'd give them 1,000,000 SYP. If you're reading this and you know something, but don't want to tell us how you know, that's fine, we're happy to follow up on this end and if it turns out to lead us to Nicole, we'll give you up to 1,000,000 SYP.
September 24th (Evening) :
My mom flew back from Vancouver early Sunday morning so I've been all caught up on the fantastic showing at the fundraiser on Saturday. Lots and lots of people and some wonderful donations to auction off and give out as door prizes. Everyone was very generous and I should have an idea of how much was raised a bit later this week. I'm also going to post the list of sponsors from the pamphlet handed out at the event so everyone can see just how generous people and companies have been. It's truly touching. A huge thank you to all the organizers and volunteers who helped make it happen.
In other good news, I did an interview with MSNBC.com, our first break into American media. It looks like it will be a fairly lengthy piece, and once I know when it will be released I'll direct everyone to it. Hopefully that will ignite some new interest and we can potentially find these Americans we're looking for.
In a similar vein, Radio Canada chatted with both Gary and myself and they'll have an item tomorrow morning at 8:30 Vancouver time on 97.7FM. I will attempt to post a link to the web version tomorrow once it's up.
Was relatively distracted this weekend, and didn't sleep well last night, so not too much energy to post or respond today. I'll try and catch up a bit more tomorrow or Wednesday.
September 22nd (Noon) :
In a disappointing twist, the Barbara Liu in Washington D.C. with a daughter named Katharine is *not* the Barbara Liu/Lu we're looking for who has a daughter named Katharine/Kathryn/Catherine. Back to the drawing board.
September 21st (Evening) :
The big fundraiser is tomorrow and The Province out in British Columbia wrote an article about it! It appears that there are still a few tickets that will be available at the door, so please come out and enjoy yourself. Perhaps you'll find something you've always wanted in the Silent Auction?
I received two good leads on the Americans we're looking for thanks to very hard-working volunteers who seem to spend hours scouring Google and various social networking sites. A "Markus Fuchs" is a professor in Germany who writes about the Middle East, but his email says he's away until October 7th. Better yet, there is a Barbara Liu of the correct age with a daughter named Katharine of the roughly correct age living in Washington (last known address). We don't have contact information for them yet, but we're working on it. Hopefully this will finally give us some clues, or at least confirm that Nicole was really going where we think she was going.
My work schedule has eased off these past few weeks, as has the inflow of emails, so I'm feeling a lot more caught up than I usually do. Regrettably, I still have a backlog of emails from July and even June, but I will eventually get to them. As always, I read all emails within a few hours of receiving them, it's just the responding that takes me some time.
Concurrently with the Fundraiser, I'm also having a BBQ at my house tomorrow (no cover charge, door prizes or silent auction at this event). I know a lot of friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances read the blog, so if you read this in time and know where I live (or know how to reach me), you are more than welcome to stop by in the afternoon or evening.
September 20th (Evening) :
The big fundraiser is this Saturday - the details are under the September 17th entry. Word on the street is that The Province in Vancouver will be publishing an article about Nicole tomorrow to raise awareness. They've been great about keeping the story alive in the B.C. press.
We may have found "Catharin Powers" - there is a Kathleen Power who works as a teacher in Syria. I can't imagine it's not the same person. I've emailed her and hopefully we'll know for certain soon.
It worries me that despite living in Syria, the various American guests we're looking for may not know about our search. As far as we're aware, we're the topic of conversation for many and we were in the newspapers and on television. But one of the pitfalls of being at the centre of things is that you think everyone knows about it. Hopefully there's someone out there with the information we need, we just haven't been able to reach them with our story yet.
I wanted to remind everyone that when we do find a guest, I remove their name from the various lists we've posted so that people know to stop searching. We haven't found too many recently (though we did find two archeologists who emailed me in German from China where they are currently working to say they did not meet Nicole at the Citadel Hotel) but I try and keep the lists up-to-date. If you've found a guest that's still on the list, let me know - it may have slipped through the cracks on this end.
I wanted to talk about another great effort by a volunteer. One of our contacts is having trouble reaching all the Barbara Liu's in the U.S. by telephone, so she's going to send each of them a letter asking them to email me. Paper mail feels very quaint to me, a sign of the times I'm sure, but I can definitely appreciate the effort involved. As always, the volunteers amaze me.
September 18th (Evening) :
We've found two more guests - archeologists staying at the Citadel Hotel. They're currently "on the road" but we've sent messages via the university.
There are apparently seven people named "Barbara Liu" in the United States and one of our volunteers has offered to call each of them. Conveniently, they'll only have to call six as one was already contacted by a second volunteer. As I keep saying, but can't say enough, it's great to have people doing these searches and finding people, really amazing. As a reminder, if you've attempted to find someone or follow up on a lead, and it wasn't successfull, make sure you tell me about that as well, just so I know it's been done.
Recently I've been dealing with some contacts in Syria, and while I may have touched on this back in May, I wanted to mention it again. There's a strong sense of fear among Syrians that makes them reluctant to come forward. The Syrian police have a bad reputation for interrogating everyone that might be involved (including innocent witnesses), and their interrogation techniques are not gentle. This is one of the reasons it was so difficult to hear about the rumours in Hama or Salamiyeh - no one wants to bring any attention to themselves.
I want to reassure anyone who contacts me that your name and email address are kept completely private, especially if you're Syrian. The Canadian police don't get the information, the Syrian police don't get the information, even the rest of my family doesn't get the information (and nor do they want it). I am only interested in finding Nicole and I would hate to think that someone out there knows where she is but is afraid to tell us. If this is you, please contact me.
Jumping to a new topic (as the blog enters the 25th week, I've given up trying to keep the writing smooth), with the Saturday fundraiser coming up, I wanted to chat a bit about "what to say" when you run into someone from the family. I hear a lot of people saying that they wanted to contact us to offer support, but didn't know what to say and didn't want to bother us. And there have many semi-awkward moments in person as people struggle for the right words.
In general, the worst (and most common) thing to ask is, "is there any news?" All the news that we are willing to tell is on the blog, so if we have "hidden" news (such as the ransom emails back in August) we'll need to lie to you, and if we don't have news, you're just reminding us of that. Neither is an optimal situation.
Related to this is the "what are your next steps?" question. There are not a lot of options remaining to us, and this question just reminds us of this fact. The few options that do remain are either actively being followed up on and detailed in the blog, or they're being kept under wraps for reasons we can't share with you. Again, it's a situation we'd rather avoid.
Another major concern is offending or upsetting the family. Don't worry about it. There is nothing you can imagine that we haven't already imagined a dozen times, so feel free to talk openly about bodies or murderers if you have an idea or suggestion (though in general, those should be directed to me via email). It's not a nice situation, but it's the reality, and we're used to it. We're also used to people being uncomfortable and not knowing what to say, and trust me, I empathize (hence this update).
Don't feel a need to bring Nicole up every time you see one of us. This is what often leads to the "is there any news?" question - people are looking for something to say to show that they're concerned and interested. This is very much appreciated, but it really isn't necessary. Commenting on a recent blog update isn't so bad - it shows that you're keeping up and concerned, but don't in any way feel obligated.
I've heard that the best thing to talk about with the family/friends of someone who has died (a relatively similar situation) is your past experiences with that person. I think that's a great idea and it has worked in the past few years with people who knew my dad. For everyone who will be chatting with my mom and sister at the fundraiser on Saturday, if you've spent time with Nicole, no matter how small, tell them about it! Share the happy times and how Nicole was in your life, or how you've become linked to our family. It's been great to receive emails from people around the world who interacted with Nicole, be it travelling or work or on a team. Those are the stories that we love to hear, not repeating ourselves about how poorly the search is going.
For me personally, as I've said before, I'd prefer to avoid the topic altogether if I'm with you in person. I live and breathe this search, so the best thing is to always let me bring it up first. Feel free to mention that you read the blog, especially if I wouldn't naturally have realized this (it's been quite nice to hear from strangers that they read the blog, it helps inspire me to keep updating).
My apologies to anyone who I may have seemed rude to in the past five months, but I will almost always change the topic immediately if Nicole comes up. It seems a bit strange/offensive to even write about what is and is not appropriate to talk about, but I figure most people want to know, they're just afraid to ask. Hopefully this will make things easier for everyone!
September 17th (Evening) :
I wanted to remind everyone, especially those in Vancouver, that this Saturday is the fundraiser for Nicole:
Saturday, September 22nd
Kingston Taphouse and Grille
755 Richards Street
My mother is flying out for the event, as is my sister Jordyn and her mom Nicki. There will also be a silent auction, 50/50 draw, and your $25 ticket will include a choice of four dinner options and a drink. People interested in purchasing tickets can reach the organizer (Jo-Ann) at jojotrainor AT hotmail.com. (Replace the " AT " with @) or they can email Gary at firstname.lastname@example.org. I don't think they're sold out just yet, but it's probably pretty close! I'm a bit out of the loop on whether they've received enough door prizes and auction items, but I suspect they'll still take donations if you've got them.
The leads have slowed down these past few days, though I'm hopeful that the email template from the 15th will assist us in finding the Americans. An amusing aside on email - one of the side effects of putting my email address everywhere is a significant increase in spam. At one point I was receiving more emails about winning the lottery and requests to handle million dollar inheritances from Africa than I was about Nicole. Most of them are in English and can be deleted, but there have been a few times where I've rushed an Arabic email to a translator, only to find out it's an ad for a social networking website or something similar. And just today I received an invitation to join a discussion group on Arabic movies! Ah well.
Someone mentioned the river Orontes that flows through Hama and whether it was searched. Last month (or was it in July?) I spoke about flooding and the possibilities of that washing up any evidence (such as a body) to a specific location. Unfortunately, it appears no flood experts are reading the blog and I wasn't able to pursue that avenue. Similarly, how does one search a river? Is there a standard method for searching, or do local experts just know where the pools are that things/bodies eventually end up in? I can't imagine it's that easy to search a river, so I haven't done much to follow up on the idea, but if anyone knows different, please let me know.
September 15th (Noon) :
People have been great about suggesting possible names for "Mardos Fakse", one of the three Americans we're looking to chat with. I wanted to post a list of the various possibilities offered so far:
Of course, the other two guests may be easier to find, though there are at least this many variants of "Katherine":
Not to mention short forms that may be commonly use such as Kate or Cate. And "Lu" can be spelt "Lue" and likely "Liu" etc.
In addition to the names, I also have what was written down as their passport numbers. If anyone has access to passport records (or to a US government official who might), please look these folks up and email me their information or even contact them and have them reach us. Again, the three guests are:
Markus Fox (among many options) b. 1979 Passport# 204577301
Catherine Lu b. 1987 Passport# 023279891
Barbara Lu b. 1950 Passport# 21536629
I'm not sure the passport numbers are accurate because they are only digits - I suspect the letters are left out when they write them down.
If you do find a likely contact, please attempt to contact them. I suggest an email with a subject line such as:
"Barbara Lu - Did You Visit Syria (Cairo Hotel) In March?"
This will make the email stick out from spam as it contains their name and details unique to them.
I would then include text along the lines of:
"Hello, my name is YOUR NAME.
I am a volunteer in the search for Nicole Vienneau, a Canadian who went missing from Hama, Syria on March 31st. The guest list at the Cairo Hotel, where she last stayed indicates that there was a THEIR NAME staying at the hotel at the same time who spoke with Nicole the day before she disappeared. We are hoping to find this person in case Nicole might have shared her plans for the next day.
Can you please let me know if you are the person we are looking for (or if you are not)? Alternatively, please contact Matthew Vienneau directly at email@example.com.
This is not a hoax. www.findnicolevienneau.com is a website detailing our search, including a link to a daily blog. The family has visited Syria several times in an attempt to find Nicole, but there have been no significant leads so far.
Thank you so much for your time, it is very much appreciated.
We're running out of leads, so these guests are becoming our best hope.
September 13th (Evening) :
We found three more guests! A woman in France stumbled across the blog and happens to be friends with three of the guests at the Citadel Hotel. Not the Americans at the Cairo like we've been hoping, but every guest found is another chance at perhaps figuring out where Nicole was headed and who she interacted with.
Speaking of the Americans, I would like people to concentrate on finding three specific guests from the Cairo Hotel. We have reports that they chatted with Nicole the day before she disappeared:
Mardos Fakse 1979 USA
Katherin Lu 1987 USA
Barbara Lu 1950 USA
I've included the Arabic version of their names as typed out by an extremely helpful contact in Syria (we have images of the guest lists in Arabic, but no soft copies). Please translate as you will as our translations are frequently less than 100% (a just-found guest named "Bordot" was translated as "Bordotep", for example). "Mardos Fakse" in particular does not sound like any American names. If you have a better translation, please post it in the blog comments or email me directly (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It's very important to find these three guests.
We've been told by the Mufti in Hama that the local Imams mentioned Nicole in their Friday sermons. This is much appreciated and helps get the word out to those that don't Internet and newspaper access. Ramadan begins today I believe - hopefully that will not mean a relaxing of the search in any way.
September 12th (Evening) :
Well, it looks like Nicole isn't at Shmemis.
I had received some emails a few weeks ago with very specific rumours indicating that she might be located in the well, but after a flurry of activity in Syria, it doesn't appear to be true. The approach to the well is very steep and perilous - difficult to carry a body - and very visible. The police have checked (are checking?) the wells and have not found anything. Frustrating.
One of the side-effects of having what appears to be a good lead is that I tend to get distracted from other leads and emails as I hope we've almost found her so the other items won't be necessary. This leaves me even more behind when the lead inevitably turns up nothing - my apologies again to everyone who has written.
A new rumour/lead - news of possible criminal groups who have fled from Northern Iraq into Syria and are kidnapping people for ransom. They smuggle them into Northen Iraq until the heat dies down, and then many months later contact the families for ransom. Again, this is un-verified and has never happened to foreigners, but we have to follow up on it. It's a "positive" lead in that it gives us hope that Nicole is alive somewhere, but that sort of hope can be dangerous at this point - the odds are not likely that Nicole is still alive. Though again, with a disappearance this mysterious and complete, kidnapping does remain an option. If you know anything about such kidnappings in Syria, please contact me.
The Trust has extended the 1,000,000 SYP reward until the end of September. If you read Arabic please check the Arabic version of our front page (on the official website) and let me know if the update to September was translated incorrectly.
Some Foreign Affairs representatives in Syria met with the local governments and police in the areas where Nicole may have disappeared and report that they are still actively keeping an eye out for any information. It appears that everyone is very aware of the situation, which makes it even more confusing that there is so little real information.
September 10th (Evening) :
Still no news on Shmemis. The head of the criminal investigation department is required to authorize a search and he's on vacation until Wednesday. As we've found to be the tendency in Syria, no one below the top (such as deputy) is willing to commit to anything, especially if it involves foreigners and the potential for doing something wrong.
One of our volunteers has been working her way through the list of "Powers" in the Northeastern U.S. and she updated me on her progress. There are about 150 listings that represent half of the total in the entire U.S., which perhaps gives good reason for our difficulty in finding these people. I'm continually impressed by the efforts of all our volunteers.
The weekend was very busy for me from 7am until late into the evening so I had no opportunity to respond to emails. My mom is back from dropping my little brother off at university, so I suspect the search will pick up again this week.
September 7th (Noon) :
The Vancouver fundraiser on the 22nd (see August 24th entry below for details) looks like it's going to be a big success. Lots of people have offered to donate items for door prizes and the charity auction, and people are travelling quite a distance to attend.
In addition to my mother and of course Gary showing up at the event, our sister Jordyn and her mom are also planning to fly out to Vancouver! Jordyn and Nicki have been helping since the very beginning with their media connections and proximity to power up there in Ottawa, and they both rushed down to Toronto back in early May when we first found Nicole's gear but not Nicole. I'm really excited and touched that they're making the trip. Don't disappoint them - come on out on the 22nd and help find Nicole.
In other news, I just checked my email again and as I write this, there are two contacts in Shmemis investigating the well where it is rumoured Nicole's body has been hidden. The well is apparently quite large and deep - it is described as a "...terrifyingly deep, blackhole of a well. It's about the size of a helicopter landing pad in diameter." It's also not fenced off, very windy, and you can't see the bottom.
Our contacts are in the process of arranging for the local police/fire department to investigate (they are waiting near the well for them to arrive). We'll have to wait and see whether persistence will defeat the well-known bureaucratic resistance, especially when it comes to going down into a giant garbage-filled hole. As Gary said earlier this week on the phone, I wish I was in Syria right now so I could be checking this out in person. Many, many thanks to our contacts in Syria who are investigating for us.
I will keep everyone updated on any findings. My plan was to not do any updates until Monday as I'm going to be extremely busy, but if anything significant should arise I will be sure to update.
September 6th (Evening):
The entries are a bit sparse this week, mostly because I'm caught up in a bunch of work and projects that end this weekend. I'll get a bit of rest after that.
We're still very interested in the rumours passed to us by a resident of Salamiyeh. These rumours have been confirmed by other contacts we've made over the past few months. I really appreciate people getting a hold of us - one woman in particular reminding me of an email from early in May that had a quality contact in Salamiyeh. With so many emails coming in, there is the risk of losing track. At the beginning I knew I should properly plan how to organize all the information so it would be easy to reference, but at the time I was in a hurry and kept thinking that this would end relatively quickly. 150+ days later and I've got a lot of information that's difficult to track down.
A contact brought up a new angle that we hadn't really considered - does Nicole have anything that someone would want? They were thinking more of a "spy vs. spy" situation where Nicole may have worked in a sensitive industry here in Canada and thus the Syrians want information out of her. Or perhaps she has skills they need - if she was a nuclear physicist, they might have an interest in her ideas on what to do with leftover uranium, for example. Alternatively, who did she talk to? Was she accidentally chatting with someone in Lebanon or earlier in Syria who is known to the intelligence folks? We had considered that she made friends with some sort of activist (though she's totally apolitical), but not these other scenarios.
That being said, Nicole background contains nothing of a sensitive nature, and she has no connections that should have people interested in her. She worked at an International High School more than five years ago, but all that suggests to us is that she might have run into an old student - if anyone from Bodwell remembers Nicole and the people who attended when she was there, please send us an email.
A final though today as I was getting frustrated with our lack of success at finding the American guests...perhaps *they* are intelligence folks and Nicole made friends with them or got caught up in something?
Before anyone gets excited, these scenarios are extremely unlikely - the product of some wild brainstorming five months into the search. We still honestly believe that the Syrian government does not know where Nicole is. And outlandish stories like you see in movies just don't happen in real life...except, of course, that just they have.
September 4th (Evening):
William Powers from the National Journal has responded and neither he, nor his son or father (who have the same name) are the people we are looking for, unfortunately. He did, however, suggest another William D. Powers who authored the book "Blue Clay People" and spends time in third-world countries. I've emailed this William Powers as well - who knew there would be so many? The key is finding the William Powers that is also linked to a Catherine (or Kathryn or Katherine, etc.) Powers.
EDIT: William D. Powers has responded - it is not him.
My mother has confirmed that she will be attending the charity event in Vancouver on September 22nd! (see August 24th for more details). So if you're in the Vancouver area, please come out and let mom and Gary thank you for your support and tell them how you know Nicole. For tickets, you can reach Gary at email@example.com or by phone - (604) 817 0816.
In addition, if you have anything you'd like to donate as a door prize or for the charity auction, please contact Gary. It looks like it will be quite an event and that is very gratifying to the family.
September 3rd (Evening):
I'm back from camping and refreshed from the break. A couple of interesting emails came in while I was away, and that always makes it easier to work on the case. This week is going to be very hectic due to other things going on in my life (culminating in my birthday on Sunday), but I'm going to try and get a bit of work done here and there.
One of the emails suggested a possible identity for William Powers, one of the American Cairo Hotel guests that we're looking for. I've emailed this person (a columnist at http://nationaljournal.com/) though I don't see a break in his column bylines suggesting a trip to Syria in late March. Even if this isn't the right person, there must be a way to find him - please click on the Cairo Hotel Guest List link below for a list of all the people we're still trying to find.
Another email inquired about US media exposure. We're still very keen to get some US (and international) media exposure in hopes that that will bring additional guests to light, as well as possible clues or resources. International attention may also escalate the issue to the highest level in Syria, though we've reached pretty high so far.
Speaking of the "highest level" - there is a new Foreign Affairs minister here in Canada. We never spoke directly with the last one, and didn't really have a sense of engagement from the top. If you have any pull with the new Minister, please feel free to draw attention to Nicole.
The final emails were regarding the rumours that the incident near Shmemis/Salamiyeh (see August 22nd entry) relates to Nicole's disappearance. There is some evidence that I'm still following up on that suggests a possible link - if anyone has any contacts in the area (or you live in the area), please tell me anything you can find or know, even if you think I know it already. We need to find the source of these rumours and see if there is any truth to them.
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