The weekend marked a week since a vulnerable British teenager vanished while holidaying with her family at a resort in Malaysia.
On Sunday, August 4, Nora Quoirin’s parents raised the alarm after discovering their daughter was not in her bedroom. A window, which reportedly can only be opened from the inside of their apartment, was found wide open on the morning the teenager went missing.
The Irish-French family, who have lived in London for 20 years, had been holidaying with their three children at the Dunsun forest eco-resort in southern Negeri Sembilan state, around an hour south of the capital Kuala Lumpur.
Parents Meabh and Sebastien are adamant that they have “no reason to believe she has wandered off and is lost” and firmly believe she has been abducted – putting them at odds with the local police.
In a statement released on Friday, August 9, the Quoirins said: “She is not like other teenagers. She is not independent and does not go anywhere alone... her verbal communication is limited. She is unable to do maths and so things like money are impossible to manage.”
Nora was born with holoprosencephaly, meaning that she has a smaller brain and has spent much of her young life in hospital.
The Quoirins added: “She cannot make or receive phone calls independently. She can wash and dress herself, though she cannot manage buttons and struggles to wash her hair.
“She has been to Asia and many European countries before, and has never wandered off or got lost.
“Nora is very sensitive. Outside the family, Nora is very shy and can be quite anxious.”
Family friend Catherine Cook, echoed these sentiments, telling the media it is out of character for Nora, who has special needs, “to go wandering off.”
And the schoolgirl’s aunt Aisling Agnew said: “Nora’s parents and relatives in Ireland and France are distraught by her disappearance. Nora is a child with special needs and has learning and developmental disabilities, which make her especially vulnerable and we fear for her safety.
“Nora would not know how to get help and would never leave her family voluntarily.”
But while police have refused to rule out a “criminal element”, they maintain that no signs of foul play have been found.
Negeri Sembilan police chief Mohamad Mat Yusop told reporters on Tuesday, August 6, he believed Nora had climbed out of a window.
He said: “We have no clues, no evidence to say this case is abduction. We will do our very best. We will not give up hope. We believe that she didn’t go far and that she had lost her way.”
He said that sniffer dogs had picked up the teenager’s scent within 100 metres from her resort bedroom but the trail stopped there.
He added Nora’s mother had reported that she was only in her undergarments when they put her to bed, but it was unclear if she was dressed when she disappeared.
Twenty people have been questioned by police in the search for Nora and a river located downhill from the property has been searched by rescue teams.
Fingerprint samples have been taken from the Quoirin family’s accommodation and investigations remain ongoing. Deputy police chief Che Zakaria Othman said the prints were at an open window in a downstairs hall, not in the bedroom upstairs where Nora was sleeping with her siblings.
He added that the force had included Nora in its prayers, and “were asking for Allah’s help in finding the missing person.”
Footprints in the forest
State Fire and Rescue Department operation division assistant director Ahmad Mukhlis Mokhtar said they were investigating whether footprints spotted in the forest belonged to the missing teen.
He told local journalists: “Previously, our detective canines had spotted footprints, but when we conducted a search there, we couldn’t find her.”
He added that the rescuers would now focus on the jungle’s dense and hilly areas amid a theory Nora could be hiding behind trees or rocks.
Search crews have also been playing recordings of Nora’s mother’s voice as they search through loudspeakers.
In them, Meabh Quoirin, who would regularly read her daughter stories at bedtime, can be heard saying “Nora darling, Nora I love you, mummy is here,” in the hope it may lure her out of any potential hiding places.
‘Nora I love you, mummy is here’
Nora’s photograph is being handed out at roadblocks in the area and the local indigenous people – known as Orang Asli – are also helping with the search, though they have urged police to widen the search area.
The Malay Mail reports that some of the Orang Asli community are convinced that Nora is no longer in the area, otherwise they would have found her.
Citing two cases of missing persons in the area previously, both of whom were found with their help within 24 hours, an individual known as “Pak” said: “It is impossible she is still here… even if she fainted or anything untoward happened while she was lost… the police canine unit would have detected her scent.”
Another source told the newspaper there is limited security at the resort and that its CCTV has only a narrow reach. He said: “I was told by the police on the particular day of the incident that the main gate was not locked. So it could be anyone coming in and out.”
The former police chief who reviewed the disappearance of Madeleine told The Sun he hoped the Malaysian police were using a “belt and braces” approach during the “golden hours” after Nora was first reported missing.
He added: “They should have been checking whether there were any disgruntled staff members at the hotel or whether there have been any recent burglaries at the resort or the surrounding areas.”
Haanim Bamadhaj, a resort spokesman, said the Dusun management is baffled by Nora’s disappearance.
Resort staff and even some guests had earlier joined in the search, she said.
“Our resort has been operating for 10 years and we have never even been robbed. We are doing our very best and praying hard,” she said.
Following Nora’s disappearance, she said some guests had cancelled their bookings and that the resort had provided full refunds.
An online fundraising page set up by Nora’s aunt to help find her niece has raised more than £90,000.
The fundraiser on gofundme.com says Nora’s families in Ireland and France are “distraught”, adding: “More family members are travelling to Malaysia to participate in the search and rescue effort and would appreciate donations to cover any unforeseen expenses or charges incurred in the process.”
The family is being assisted by the Lucie Blackman Trust, which helps crisis-struck British nationals overseas.