http://www.ajc.com/gwinnett/content/metro/gwinnett/stories/2007/11/14/missing_1115.htmlFamily searches for teen who disappeared from nightclub
By ANDRIA SIMMONS
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 11/15/07
Fighting off a creeping sense of dread is easier when you're busy.
Erica and Steve Wilson, the mother and stepfather of 18-year-old Justin Gaines, have done everything they can think of to find their son since he vanished from Wild Bill's nightclub in Duluth two weeks ago. They've organized search parties, hired a private investigator, collected $50,000 for a reward fund for his safe return and just this week set up a toll-free tip line at 1-877-270-9500.
Amid all this, Steve has been trying to keep it together for Erica, who in turn is struggling to hold up under the strain for the sake of the six other children in their blended family. But when the phone stops ringing and all the people leave, it's all they can do not to plunge into despair.
"The worst thing is at night and in the morning, Your mind and hands are idle," Steve Wilson said.
The Wilsons had reason for renewed hope Wednesday, though. A nonprofit search-and-rescue team, Texas EquuSearch, arrived to orchestrate a large-scale search that is scheduled to begin today.
Tim Miller, the director of Texas Equu-Search, said he hoped to mobilize 150 to 200 volunteers to scour the area around Wild Bill's. Anyone 18 years or older wishing to join the search can meet at Berkmar United Methodist Church at 675 Pleasant Hill Road in Duluth from 9 a.m. until dusk. The search will include the use of all-terrrain vehicles. The search team also has access to horses, helicopters and boats with sonar equipment should they be needed, Miller said.
Most of the searching since Gaines' disappearance Nov. 1 has been conducted on foot by friends and family members who have little to no experience with missing persons cases, said Erica Wilson. Texas EquuSearch has offered its services in searches for more than 800 missing people, including Natalee Holloway, 18, who disappeared last year in Aruba, and 17-year-old Ben Stanford, the grandson of Alabama state Sen. Jim Preuit whose body was found Tuesday near Villa Rica, Ga.
Miller said he expects to "hit the ground running" today. He started Equu-Search after his own daughter was abducted and murdered in 1986.
Gaines, a Brookwood High School graduate, is Erica Wilson's second son of three. He's also the one who looked most like her.
She clutched her cigarettes in one hand and cellphone in the other as she spoke to reporters in her driveway Wednesday, as if clinging to her only lifelines. Erica Wilson said she could not sleep or eat and admitted lately she had started smoking "like a freight train." She wore no makeup, and her hair was pulled back in a hasty ponytail.
"I can't cry all day long," she said. "I have to be able to think and take care of the other kids."
On the day he disappeared, Gaines drove home from Athens to Gwinnett County and told his mother he was going out with friends. He later called his roommate to pick him up from Wild Bill's, but the friend told Gaines he couldn't, family members said.
His last phone call was made shortly before 2 a.m., relatives said, and he has not been seen or heard from since.
Gwinnett police say they have no reason to suspect Gaines was a victim of foul play, and they are still treating the disappearance as a missing-person case. The investigation has slowed over the past week because some associates of Gaines have been uncooperative, said Cpl. Illana Spellman, spokeswoman for the Gwinnett County Police Department.
Anyone with information on Gaines' whereabouts is urged to contact the department's Criminal Investigations Section at 770-513-5300.
Gaines was making A's and B's during the first months of his freshman year on the Oconee campus of Gainesville State College and was a popular student.
He was a bit of a partier and a regular patron at Wild Bill's on Thursday nights, which target the 18-and-up crowd. Gaines had VIP tickets. He had two fake IDs in the name of Brad Allen and Brad Shewe. He used them to buy alcohol, Gaines' friends would later tell his parents.
Gaines wasn't always so sociable, according to his grandmother, Karen Yaroma, who shares Gaines' brilliant blue eyes. Years ago he was a "chubby little freckled kid with not a friend in the world" until one summer in high school he discovered weightlifting and the tanning bed, she said.
"All of a sudden that one summer, he redesigned himself," Yaroma said.
Friends and family members reject the idea that Gaines left of his own accord. They say he would never leave for so long without letting anyone know.
"I don't believe for a second that he's got some wild college itch and he's gone off to Florida," Steve Wilson said.
"We were close," he added before correcting himself. "We are close."