Police suspect foul play in missing teen case
Family bumps reward to $25K

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett police announced Friday that a Snellville teen's disappearance three months ago has officially been ruled suspicious.

Gwinnett police spokeswoman Cpl. Illana Spellman said investigators are working leads that "may support evidence of foul play" in the case of Justin Gaines, an 18-year-old college student who vanished from a Duluth nightclub in early November.

Spellman could not specify what has led police to suspect criminal activity.

"It sounds like they've found something," said Karen Beyers, a family spokesperson. "(Gaines' family) is continuing to have hope."

That hope is materializing in the form of a serious cash reward.

Gaines' family has bumped a personal reward to $25,000 for information leading to the fun-loving Gainesville State College student who lived in Athens.

That sum complements $50,000 pledged by an anonymous donor in November.

Gaines' mother, Erika Wilson, said the family has hired a private investigator and continues fundraising to keep the search alive. She had no idea why police declared possible foul play in the case, she said.

"It's tough but we're hanging in there," Wilson said. "I keep my faith. I keep hope."

After three months of searching, Wilson said the family remains buoyant. She points to national missing-person cases - like that of Shawn Hornbeck, the abducted 11-year-old in Missouri recovered in January 2007, four years after he vanished - for evidence that loved ones can reappear after improbable spans of time.

"We need to know what's going on," Wilson said. "We need closure and we need to bring our son home."

Numerous searches for Gaines - including a November campaign that saw 200 volunteers from a professional recovery outfit in Texas - have been fruitless thus far.

Gaines, a Brookwood High School grad, was last seen in the early morning hours of Nov. 2 at Wild Bill's nightclub.

The beefy, blue-eyed Gaines was last heard from when he called a friend for a ride home about 1:30 a.m.

Search leaders have established a Web site, www.justingaines.com, that acts as an online deposit for new information.

Well-wishers from across the country continue to post prayers for Gaines' family. He will turn 19 on March 31, his mother said.

Police urge anyone with information about Gaines' disappearance to call the criminal investigations section at 770-513-5300.