Malaysia

Malaysian police search for vulnerable schoolgirl missing from holiday resort

This article includes numerous updates (see additions at the end).

Police in Malaysia are searching for a 15-year-old schoolgirl from London, Nóra Quoirin, who has gone missing from a rainforest resort near the town of Seremban, about 63 kilometres south of the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

Nóra, who has learning and developmental disabilities, is the daughter of an Irish-French couple and is travelling on an Irish passport. Her father raised the alarm when he discovered that Nóra was not in her bedroom at 8 a.m. local time yesterday (Sunday). Her bedroom window was reported to have been opened.

The Lucie Blackman Trust (LBT), which supports British nationals in crisis overseas, said: “Contrary to several reports that police are not treating Nóra’s disappearance as an abduction, the family have been told directly by police that they are treating it as both an abduction and missing persons case.”

However, reporting for Malaysia’s New Straits Times tonight, Nur Aqidah Azizi quoted the police chief of Negri Sembilan state, Mohamad Mat Yusop, as saying it was too early for police to conclude that Nóra had been abducted and that her disappearance was still being being treated as a missing person case.

The police chief was quoted as telling reporters during a press conference that a search of the girl’s room at the resort “did not turn up any evidence of a criminal element in her disappearance”.

He was also quoted as stating that police patrols would continue throughout the night, and that tomorrow more personnel would be involved in the search and a helicopter from the police air unit, which was used in today’s operation, would be deployed again.

Police say they believe that Nóra is still in the local area. They have expanded the search to cover 25 acres and have split that area into four zones. Part of the search area is thick jungle.

The management of the Dusun resort said in a statement today: “The Dusun management and staff are working with police to locate 15-year-old Nora, who disappeared from one of our guest houses on Sunday morning.

“We are extremely distressed and worried and pray for her safety. Our staff searched our 12-acre property all Sunday morning and then joined the police search of the surrounding area until 3 a.m. this morning.

“We are giving what support we can to Nora’s distraught family. We appeal to the community here on Pantai Hills and to the wider community to contact the Pantai police with any information they may have.”

About 170 personnel from the police and other services, including the fire and rescue department, the civil defence force, and the forestry department, are engaged in the search for Nóra, who arrived at the Dusun resort with her parents, Meabh and Sebastien, and her two siblings on Saturday morning. Local indigenous Orang Asli are helping to scour the forest and expert trackers from the Senoi Praaq special unit, which is made up mainly of Orang Asli, have been called in to assist.

Photo credit: LBT/family.

In its statement today, the Lucie Blackman Trust quoted Nóra’s aunt, Aisling Agnew, speaking from Belfast, who said that Nóra’s parents, who have lived in London for about twenty years, and her relatives in Ireland and France were distraught by her disappearance.

“Nóra is a child with special needs and has learning and developmental disabilities which make her especially vulnerable and we fear for her safety,” Agnew was quoted as saying.

She added: “Nóra would not know how to get help and would never leave her family voluntarily. We now consider this a criminal matter. We are appealing to everyone to assist the local police in any way they can and to pass on any information that would help locate our beloved Nóra without delay.”

The trust’s chief executive, Matthew Searle, spoke of the urgent need to find Nóra: “This is a very vulnerable young girl missing in a remote location. She has been missing for over 24 hours now and it is imperative that every resource available is deployed to search for her.

“It is possible she has been seen or taken in by somebody and is unable to communicate, so we urge everyone who can to share our appeal poster and social media appeals. Sadly it is also possible that Nóra has been the victim of serious crime – we urge anyone with any information to come forward.”

The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs has stated that it is aware of the case and is providing consular assistance.

The MP for the London district of Streatham, Chuka Umunna, tweeted about Nóra’s disappearance:

The deputy police chief for Negeri Sembilan, Che Zakaria Bin Othman, said he had met with Nóra’s parents and officials from the Irish and French embassies. He told the media earlier today that, at that stage, there was no indication of foul play.

The Dusun eco-resort is located in a durian orchard in the foothills of the Titiwangsa mountains and is next to the 4,000-acre Berembun Forest Reserve.

Nóra’s family has set up an email address on which people can share any information they consider might be helpful: findnoraq@gmail.com.

The Lucie Blackman Trust has provided a telephone hotline and an email address. People with information, who can remain anonymous, can call +448000988485 or email ops@lbtrust.org.

More family members are travelling to Malaysia to participate in the search for Nóra and a GoFundMe appeal has been launched to raise funds to cover any unforeseen expenses. A total of £2,895 was raised in just four hours.

There is also a “FindNora” Twitter page.

Nóra with her mother Meabh.

Update 6/8/2019

New statement from Nóra’s family:

“Nóra’s family believe she has been abducted. We are especially worried because Nóra has learning and developmental disabilities, and is not like other 15-year-olds.

“She looks younger, she is not capable of taking care of herself, and she won’t understand what is going on. She never goes anywhere by herself. We have no reason to believe she wandered off and is lost.

“Nóra has shoulder-length, wavy, dark blonde hair and blue eyes; she is 5ft1 and thin. If you have any information, please pass it on so we can assist the local police in any way possible.”

 

The GoFundMe appeal has raised £27,245 in one day, with 587 people donating.

Update 7/8/2019

Some media in Britain are quoting the deputy police chief for Negeri Sembilan, Che Zakaria Othman, as saying that unidentified fingerprints have been found at the guest house where Nóra was staying and that it was a window downstairs that was left open, and not the one in the upstairs bedroom where Nóra was sleeping.

Che Zakaria Othman says that, while police have classified Nóra’s disappearance as a “missing person” case, they are not ruling out any possibility. The investigation was very wide, he said. It involved federal and local police and about two hundred personnel were now involved. About twenty people have been interviewed by police.

Drones have been deployed in the search for Nóra and divers have been scouring a river that runs through the forest next to the Dusun resort.

Further update:

Nóra’s relatives have just issued a statement in which they said they were “completely overwhelmed by the support we have received from all over the world”.

They added that they wished to express their deepest gratitude to the Royal Malaysian Police, the search and rescue teams, and the emergency services “for all they have done for us in this difficult time”.

They also said they would like to thank their embassies, the local community, and the staff at the Dusun resort, and anyone else who had offered help to find Nóra.

“We also welcome the assistance of the French, British and Irish police,” the family added.

“This is extremely traumatic for the whole family. Meabh and Sebastien are devastated and too upset to speak themselves at this time.”

Nóra’s relatives also said they were extremely thankful to the Lucie Blackman Trust for its ongoing support.

“They are handling all media enquiries for us and everything should be directed to them. Our family cannot face dealing with that at the moment. But we must remain hopeful. And we ask everyone to keep Nóra in their thoughts, and to continue to support the ongoing search for her.

“Nora is still missing, and she is very vulnerable, and we need to do everything we can to bring her home.”

Update 8/8/2019

To aid in their search for Nóra, police are considering playing recordings of the voices of her relatives via loudspeakers in the forest.

Police said today that they had no new positive leads. They confirmed they are liaising with Interpol about Nóra’s disappearance.

Update 10/08/2019

Meabh Quoirin is comforted by her huband Sebastien as she thanks search-and-rescue teams for all they have done to try and find her daughter Photo credit: The Royal Malaysia Police/AP.

Today (Saturday), Nóra’s mother Meabh thanked search-and-rescue teams for all they have done so far to try and locate her daughter.

Being comforted by her husband while she spoke, and clearly struggling with her emotions, Meabh Quoirin said: “We want to say thank you to each and every one of you. We know you are searching night and day for Nóra.

“We see you working so hard and also praying with us, being with us. We know you have given up your time, especially at a special festival time, to be with us here. It means the world to us and we are so grateful for everything that you are doing for us, everyone here and everyone who is helping who is not here.

“We are extremely impressed with the effort, your expertise, your dedication and we hope you find Nóra, and thank you so much. Terima kasih (thank you).”

This was the first time that Nóra’s mother had spoken publicly about her daughter’s disappearance. The Lucie Blackman Trust has been helping them to deal with the media.

Nóra’s family believes that she has been abducted. Police, however, say the case of Nóra’s disappearance is still officially that of a missing person, and there is no evidence of foul play, but they add that they are ruling nothing out.

More than three hundred people are now searching the jungle next to the Dusun resort.

On Friday, Nóra’s family issued a statement, going into detail about the kind of person she is.

“Nóra is a very special person,” they said. “She is fun, funny, and extremely loving. With her family, she is very affectionate – family is her whole world and she loves to play games, like Cat Bingo, with us. She likes to tell us silly jokes and wear clever, colourful t-shirts. She is not like other teenagers. She is not independent and does not go anywhere alone.”

The family explained that Nóra’s verbal communication is limited. “Nóra can read like a young child, but she cannot write more than a few words. She has a good memory, but she cannot understand anything conceptual She is unable to do maths and so things like money are impossible to manage,” the family said.

Nóra’s family explained that she cannot make or receive phone calls independently, that she can wash and dress herself, but cannot manage buttons, and that she struggles to wash her hair. At school, she is learning to ride a bicycle properly.

“Nóra likes to walk with her family, but her balance is limited and she struggles with coordination. She has been to Asia, and many European countries before, and has never wandered off or got lost,” her family said.

Nóra was born with holoprosencephaly, which, her family explains, means that her brain is small. Holoprosencephaly is a rare congenital brain malformation resulting from incomplete separation of the right and left hemispheres.

“All her life she has spent a lot of time in hospital,” Nóra’s relatives said. “When she was born, she needed operations to help her breathing. She has specialists that monitor her growth, her physical abilities and her strength, and especially her mental capacity.

“Nóra has always needed dedicated specialist educational provision, and now attends a school for children and young people with learning and communication difficulties.”

Nóra and other members of her family are bilingual and bicultural, her relatives added in their statement yesterday. “Nóra is very proud that she can speak French as well as English.”

Nóra, her family says, is very sensitive. “Outside the family, Nóra is very shy and can be quite anxious. Every night, her special time is for cuddles and a night-time story with her mum. And she was extremely excited about the family holiday in Malaysia,” the family added.

Questioned yesterday about the living room window through which police think Nóra may have exited the guest house, the deputy police chief for Negeri Sembilan, Che Zakaria Othman, said that the window could be opened from outside if not locked on the inside.

Police found unidentified fingerprints on the window that are being analysed.

Photo issued by the Negeri Sembilan police.

To aid in the search for Nóra, a recording of her mother’s voice is being played via loudspeakers. Search teams are also playing the recording on their mobile phones as they go through the jungle.