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Where's Nora? The 15-year-old, whose mother is from Belfast, vanished without trace last weekend and despite extensive searches and appeals, the mystery remains...

Missing in Malaysia

Nora went missing while on a holiday with her family in Malaysia
Nora went missing while on a holiday with her family in Malaysia
A missing poster
With her mother Meabh Quoirin
Members of a Malaysian K9 unit scour the area for signs of missing 15-year-old French-Irish girl Nora Quoirin
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

"Nora, darling. Nora, I love you. Mum is here" - the heart-wrenching sound that rang out over loudspeakers across the dense Malaysian jungle last night as the desperate search for 15-year-old Nora Quoirin continued.

The tearful recordings were the latest in a series of attempts to locate the missing London schoolgirl, who vanished last Sunday on the first day of her family trip to the country.

One week on from the last time she saw her daughter, her devastated mother, Meabh, who is originally from Belfast, said that the family "must remain hopeful".

The schoolgirl is believed to have left her room in the family's eco-resort cottage in her underwear via the window before 8am on Sunday and then vanished.

Her family maintain that Nora, who has learning disabilities, has been abducted because she "never goes anywhere by herself".

In an emotional statement released yesterday, the family explained that Nora was born with holoprosencephaly, meaning she has a smaller than normal brain, and is a "very special person".

"She is fun, funny, and extremely loving.

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"With her family, she is very affectionate - family is her whole world and she loves to play games, like Cat Bingo, with us," the statement read.

"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.

"Nora is very sensitive. Outside the family, she is very shy and can be quite anxious."

Nora arrived at the Dusun Resort, near Seremban, the day before she disappeared for a two-week family holiday with her mother, French-born father Sebastian and two other siblings. It was August 3.

A popular destination for families, Dusun is a small resort nestled within a fruit orchard.

Set up on a small hill, the luxurious private holiday villas give spectacular views of the Berembun rainforest reserve below. Activities guests partake in, including treks into the jungle, to nearby waterfalls and through forests, are billed as raising awareness of Malaysia's beautiful natural heritage and supporting local traditions and communities. Villas cost up to £1,000 per week to stay in.

Just an hour from the capital, Kuala Lumpur, the area is described as a haven in the wilderness, the "perfect nature escape" and "paradise", and it attracts families the world over.

Yesterday, the peace of the tropical paradise was shattered by the sound of a helicopter and the constant whirr of drones scanning the forest area from the air while sniffer dogs scoured the land.

Search teams equipped with thermal imaging equipment have gathered at the resort and are spanning out in their hundreds across the area looking for the child.

Yesterday, they were joined by elite Malaysian commando forces, with two dozen members of the VAT 69 special police unit assigned to the huge search operation.

Malaysian police believe Nora could only have left the resort villa through an open ground-floor window.

They released pictures of the villa's living room and the open window, which is narrow but police believe Nora could have squeezed through it.

The Quoirin family could do nothing but watch, wait and pray as any news filtered in, with some claims unfounded and others disputed by police officers.

Some of her family have taken to trekking through the boulder-filled hills in search of her.

There were rumours that she had taken a shower at a water tank below the houses.

Yesterday, an official involved in the search told reporters that several footprints believed to belong to Nora were found by a canine unit of the fire and rescue department. However, police said this was not the case.

Searchers say the youngster could be hiding.

District police chief Mohamad Nor Marzukee Besar emphasised the significance of time passing, saying that "an able-bodied or normal person would be weak by the fifth day and that is why we need to find (Nora) as soon as possible".

Malaysian police have even considered the possibility that "jungle spirits" may have had a role in her disappearance.

Senior officers have discussed local folklore concerning the existence of mystical forces in the jungle adjoining Dusun.

Ex-RUC detective Jim Gamble, former chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, who worked on the case of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, says Nora’s case bears similarities to that of both Madeleine and of Ben Needham, the Sheffield boy who disappeared on the Greek island of Kos in 1991.

“Some of the issues that the family, police and media will address are similar to the Madeleine McCann and Ben Needham cases, in as much as you are operating in a different environment, an extended distance from your home and the culture that you are used to,” he says.

“There is working with a police force in a different country and making sure you understand the cultural niceties, so that you don’t end up alienating those who you are really relying on to push forward the search for your child.

“Nora’s family have been pitch-perfect in that. They have been so appreciative of what the local people and police and other agencies have done.”

Mr Gamble adds: “Most people will have experience of local children who go missing, but in these type of cases you take the three hypotheses: one she has wandered off and got lost; two, some harm has befallen her in a criminal context, or; three, you have the opportunist abduction.

“Each of those is so unlikely in their own right, in reality. But, actually, what you have to do when you clearly move forward with one hypothesis — that she got lost, even though the family have some very legitimate concerns that it might not be the case — you go ahead with that, while simultaneously taking into account the fact that there could be a criminal element.

“There are lots of parallels in that sense.”

Mr Gamble says that he has been in contact with the family and offered them advice and guidance on how to move forward.

“I have been speaking to the family out in Malaysia. I am not going out at this stage. I think that would only add to the bedlam of a lot of people. One of the lessons from the Madeleine McCann case is that when people rush to help, that creates a level of chaos, which is the last thing the family need.

“I have been providing what I see as the common sense advice on the basis of experience to the family.

“But they are quite rightly being led by the Malaysian police, who have significant resources and experience and who are now being supported by a number of different agencies.

“I am providing moral support and reassurance around what I think should and should not happen. My advice to them has been to take the lead of the authorities, use the embassy and the Irish consulate to ensure you are getting access to all the resources that are needed and really prompting them about looking after themselves.

“What you see in these cases is that families are thrown into a scenario that they never even contemplated facing.

“It’s bad enough if your child goes missing, but to go missing in a strange place, which is so different and dangerous, that’s hard. They are having to manage their anxiety around that for prolonged periods.”

Mr Gamble says that hope is still alive that the teenager will be found.

“There is still hope. Until we know, we don’t know. So, in the ‘missing’ hypotheses and how long can a healthy adult go without food and water, you are looking at 10 or 11 days.

“With a child, we are in unknown, uncharted territory at this stage.

“But there is still every reason for hope. And I think that, at the 11th hour in the ‘missing’ scenario, if she is, in fact, trapped, we need to throw the kitchen sink at it.

“We need to ensure that everything possible that can be done is done. We need to incentivise and call for more people locally to support the searches and go back over the ground that has been covered to make sure that nothing has been missed,” he adds.

Though the youngster’s disappearance has been classified as a missing person case for now, police have yet to rule out other angles, including abduction.

Her parents have ceaselessly maintained that she was abducted from her room. Police say there is no evidence that this is the case.

The police have not ruled out foul play in the disappearance and have so far questioned 20 people and believe at this stage she remains close to the resort.

Fingerprints found on the windowsill of Nora’s bedroom were being analysed, as was footage from the single CCTV camera installed at the resort’s registration counter. There is no security guard on duty at the resort at any time.

Earlier in the week Nora’s distraught aunt, Eadaoin Agnew, issued a heartfelt statement, saying: “We need to do everything we can to bring her home.”

“Nora is still missing and she is very vulnerable,” she said. “We need to do everything we can to bring her home. We are completely overwhelmed by the support we have received from all over the world.

“This is extremely traumatic for the whole family.

“We ask everyone to keep Nora in their thoughts.”

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