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Ani Ashekian who is presently missing in Hong Kong

In the closed-circuit video, Ani Ashekian looks unhurried as she withdraws money from a bank machine on Hong Kong Island shortly after midnight. There's a man withdrawing money at the machine beside her, but otherwise she's alone. She returns a few minutes later to make another withdrawal, taking out about $470 between the two visits.

That CCTV footage of Ms. Ashekian using the bank machine in the Causeway Bay metro station early last Nov. 11 is the last time anyone saw the 31-year-old native of Windsor, Ont. About the same time, she sent a text message to her niece in Canada wishing her a happy birthday. Then, nothing.

For a full year now, there have been no phone calls, no e-mails, no more bank withdrawals - not a trace. Hong Kong immigration officials say Ms. Ashekian never formally left the tiny territory. Even her bags haven't been found.

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All of this has turned Ms. Ashekian into an unfortunate celebrity in Hong Kong. Her disappearance has shocked the city of seven million, challenging its reputation as one of the safest big cities on the planet.

It has also created a cottage industry of people - most of whom never met Ms. Ashekian - offering sometimes unsolicited advice. Private investigators, volunteers, psychics and a crime novelist who sees a bizarre parallel between Ms. Ashekian's case and his book have all contributed theories.

That's in addition to the 12 officers Hong Kong Island's crime unit has reportedly assigned to the case, down from 150 officers at the peak of the search last winter. A Facebook group dedicated to the case has attracted more than 16,000 members worldwide.

While the professionals have avoided speculating about what might have happened to Ms. Ashekian, myriad theories have been floated. The South China Morning Post has reported that she could have left Hong Kong on a small boat, since she didn't leave through the airport or any of its formal border crossings with China, "fallen in with the wrong crowd" or suffered a hiking accident. Psychics have claimed to have seen Ms. Ashekian in locations as diverse as teaching an English class and floating in water.

Two people have come forward to say they may have seen Ms. Ashekian shortly after the CCTV video was made, but neither was positive that it was her they saw. A reward of nearly $30,000 hasn't led to any solid leads, either.

Ms. Ashekian was wearing a grey sweatshirt, black shorts and a backpack in the CCTV video, her dark hair tucked up in a ponytail. She arrived in Hong Kong on Nov. 9 last year after spending just over a week in Beijing and central China. She told friends and family that she wanted to continue on to India, where she planned to go on a yoga retreat, and she was booked on a flight from New Delhi to Toronto on Dec. 15.

Kinzie, a Canadian woman living in Hong Kong who is one of several volunteers who have devoted substantial time to the search for Ms. Ashekian, said the case has captured imaginations for the simple reason that it's so unusual. "This just doesn't happen here. Tourists don't just disappear in Hong Kong. Anyone who's lived here for any length of time is shocked," said Kinzie, who uses only one name.

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Michael Connelly, whose bestselling novel Nine Dragons is about a father's search for a daughter gone missing in Hong Kong, feels a particularly awkward connection to the case. The missing woman in his book is last seen at Chungking Mansions, a budget hostel where Ms. Ashekian was spotted shortly before she made her bank withdrawals.

Mr. Connelly visited the Chungking Mansions as part of his research, arriving just two days after Ms. Ashekian was spotted in the same place. In a blog he recently wrote for CNN about the experience, he called the connection between his book - which recently hit No. 3 on the New York Times bestsellers list - and Ms. Ashekian's real-life disappearance "eerie."

"Ani has vanished without anything to go on. And that's where this gets to me. In crime fiction, there is always something to go on," he wrote. "But in real life it doesn't always happen that way... . Sometimes there is no direction and no answers and families and other loved ones are left with an unabated dread that hollows out their lives."

The Hong Kong police have upgraded the case from a missing-person file to a criminal investigation. Even so, one scenario friends and family say they aren't willing to contemplate is that Ms. Ashekian is dead. There were just 36 murders in Hong Kong last year - roughly half the number committed in Toronto - and missing-persons cases are so rare that the police set up a hotline specifically for Ms. Ashekian's case.

"I don't think she's dead. I don't have an answer for why. I just don't," said Kinzie.

Ms. Ashekian's family feels the same way. Her sister, Sossy, told the South China Morning Post that she believes Ms. Ashekian will eventually come home safe. "I won't let that hope go," she said.

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