Nora Quoirin: How British teen’s dream family holiday ended in tragedy

It should have been the start of a dream two-week family holiday – but became every parent’s worst nightmare.

Sebastien, 47, and Meabh Quoirin, 45, had waved goodbye to the hustle and bustle of London with their three children as they prepared for an exciting off-the-grid adventure in Malaysia.

Tranquility and beautiful scenery beckoned them at The Dusan – a small family-run eco-resort more than 6,000 miles away in the hills of Negeri Sembilan in Seremban – just south of Kuala Lumper.

The family, from Balham, south west London, had booked to stay in one of the luxury holiday cottages where there wasn’t a TV in sight and their morning alarm would be an orchestra of the birds, crickets and frogs.

And the little piece of paradise would also offer plenty of privacy, gorgeous views and the chance to explore acres of nature.

But devastation struck when they woke up on the first day of their trip and discovered their eldest daughter Nora, 15, had vanished without a trace from her bed.

Dad Sebastien raised the alarm at 8am after going into her bedroom to see if she was awake.

What followed was 10 agonising days of desperation, despair and heartbreaking pleas to find the teenager with special needs in the vast, dense jungle.

The only inkling something untoward had happened was an open window in her room.

But no screams had been heard or concrete signs of a break-in found.

The search ended in tragedy on Tuesday when the teen’s body was discovered, beside a small stream about 1.6 miles from their resort.

Those who found her said she ‘looked like she was sleeping’ as she lay in plain sight.

Sean Yeap, from the search team, claimed Nora’s body was not hidden or covered and said she was lying with her hands behind her head.

Nora’s family said in a statement: “The cruelty of her being taken away is unbearable. Our hearts are broken.”

The Quoirins had arrived at The Dusan resort on Saturday, August 3.

After the long flight – and seven hour time difference from London – they turned in for the night.

But it was while the rest of the family – including siblings Innes, 12, and Maurice, eight – slept, that Nora vanished.

After a search of their accommodation and compound, Sebastien and Meabh became frantic. They realised Nora would be barefoot and wearing her night clothes in a unfamiliar and remote place.

Nora had been born with the brain defect holoprosencephaly, so was especially vulnerable.

Hundreds of people joined the search to find her, along with cadaver dogs.

At the height of the manhunt, which involved local police and Interpol, around 300 people were scouring the jungle, including the Seno Praq specialist police team made up of indigenous peoples with forest tracking skills.

Teams used drones and helicopters with thermal imaging and searchers played loudspeaker recordings of her mother’s soothing voice into the jungle.

Known paedophiles were also interviewed and police visited the homes of at least 30 local people as part of the hunt.

The Lucie Blackman Trust spoke on behalf of the family issuing updates as police and the family clashed over whether Nora had been abducted.

Police said they were treating it as a missing persons case while the Quoirins insisted criminal activity had been involved as Nora had difficulty with walking, balancing and looking after herself.

They gave emotional TV interviews, offered a reward, and shared family photos of Nora in a bid for someone to come forward with information.

A number of Malaysian shamans also performed spirit summoning rituals. One video shows shaman Khalis Mohammad claiming Nora had been lured out her room by a genie, who had chosen her to be his step-child.

He vowed to persuade the spirit to return her but warned they would ask for something return.

Top child protection officer Jim Gamble, who investigated the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, also called for the National Crime Agency (NCA) to be involved in the hunt for Nora.

He said: “It’s in no way to undermine the approach of the Malaysian police. It’s simply a recognition that these instances in these circumstances are so rare that very few organisations have the corporate memory, the technical ability and operational experience to deal with them, and the NCA certainly does.”

He added last Thursday: “We’re in the critical stage now and I am desperately hoping for the best.

“Even this far into it, there is still hope. We’ve got to hope that they’ve got the right resources at their disposal in Malaysia.

He said children going missing on holiday was “so rare, in fact, that I can only think of three cases — Ben Needham, Madeline McCann and now Nora”.

But the news the family had been dreading came on Tuesday.

Nora was discovered in “hilly and difficult” terrain not accessible to vehicles around a one hour and 20 minute walk from the resort.

It sparked fresh questions about why police who had earlier swept the area had been unable to find her.

Sean Yeap, who was among the team who found her, also revealed Nora was “naked with scratches on her arms” and “laying with her head on her hands as if she was sleeping” when she was found.

Mr Yeap said: “It looked like she was sleeping, but we all knew she was dead.

“It was very sad and two women in the group did not want to come close and they started crying.”

The insurance salesman added: “I think maybe she was elsewhere and walked to the stream perhaps to drink some water.

The place where she was found is not easy to find. I wonder if she had been following the stream as there were no footprints which means she could have been walking in the water as it was not very deep.”

Police have refused to rule out foul play and are continuing a criminal investigation alongside a missing persons inquiry, pending the outcome of the post-mortem.

Speaking to France TV, Nora’s grandad Sylvain Quoirin, said that the family has “collapsed” over the loss of their “pearl”.

He said that his son identified Nora by looking at her face.

“Sebastien was there, [they] showed him her face and he saw that it was Nora. It’s her, for sure,” he added.

“It’s catastrophic, it’s terrible. Sebastien is strong, despite everything, because he has to handle many problems. But I can tell you that they have collapsed. Everyone has collapsed. We lost a pearl, an innocent.

These are moments [in life] that I do not wish anyone.”

The cause of Nora’s death remains unknown. An update had been expected today but a post-mortem examination at a hospital in Seremban is ongoing and no further developments are expected until tomorrow.

Matthew Searle of the Lucie Blackman Trust, which is supporting Nora’s family, said: “The post-mortem is ongoing, therefore no conclusion has been reached yet.”

A police press conference, due on Wednesday, is now expected to take place at an as-yet unspecified time on Thursday.

Nora’s devastated family have said their “hearts are broken” and paid tribute to her as “the truest, most precious girl”.

They made an emotional statement released through the trust, describing how the teenager, who lived in London and was the daughter of French-Irish parents, had “truly touched the world”.

They said: “Nora is at the heart of our family. She is the truest, most precious girl and we love her infinitely.

The cruelty of her being taken away is unbearable. Our hearts are broken.”

They offered thanks to those involved in the search for the teenager, adding: “Nora has brought people together, especially from France, Ireland, Britain and Malaysia, united in their love and support for her and her family.”

Hundreds of people were involved in the search operation and it was volunteer helpers who found her body.

Deputy police chief Mazlan Mansor told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday that the body “was not in any clothings” and that the probe was considering all possibilities, including the “angle of criminal investigation”.

He said the body was found in an area that had previously been searched by rescuers.

Mr Searle appealed to people not to speculate about what happened to Nora: “There will be a time for comment but that time is not now. Let the family grieve in peace.”

During the 10-day search the teenager’s parents thanked those looking for her, as fundraising pages set up by Nora’s aunt and uncle collected more than £100,000 from well-wishers.

A book of condolence was due to be opened on Wednesday in Belfast, where Mrs Quoirin is from.

The head teacher at Nora’s school in Wandsworth, south-west London, paid tribute to her as “a delight to work with” and said her fellow pupils and others who knew her will be supported at such a difficult time.

Mike Reeves said: “The Garratt Park School community is deeply shocked and saddened by this awful news.

“Nora was a delight to work with, and focused very hard on making the best of her abilities.”

Following the confirmation that Nora’s body had been found, Irish premier Leo Varadkar said the situation was “every family’s worst nightmare”.

Irish President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina offered “deepest condolences” to Nora’s parents, siblings and extended family.

The French Foreign Ministry also expressed its sincere condolences and said officials stood ready to help Malaysian authorities “so that light can be shed on the circumstances of her death”.