GUEST VIEWPOINTS: Two years later, the pain still lingers for Justin Gaines' family

Katie Coon

Katie Coon

Tears are shed and hearts are broken every day. The Wilsons have lived through their nightmare for nearly two years and still have yet to obtain peace with their son's disappearance.

"My life has been turned inside out and upside down," said Erika Wilson, as tears fill the newly formed wrinkles that line her face.

For two long years, Erika and Steven Wilson have lost countless hours of sleep and too many tears for one to count over their son, Justin Gaines, who has been missing since Nov. 2, 2007. Every day that he remains missing, the family grows deeper in their heartache and longs for answers.

This situation was not something the family had ever expected, and after nearly two years of dealing with it, they still do not know how to handle it all.

To a family, their son means the world, and to have their world taken away is not something the Wilsons would want anyone to suffer through. This tragedy has affected the family more than many will ever imagine.

The night he went missing, Gaines went home for the weekend to spend some time with his mom, stepfather and five siblings still living at home. He was one of seven children and "provided enormous amounts of love to his family," says Steven Wilson, Gaines' stepfather.

Like many other college freshmen who have recently embarked on a new world of independence, he was looking to have fun on a Thursday night. Gaines and several friends headed to Wild Bill's, a night club in Duluth.

What was supposed to be a fun night turned out to be anything but. Gaines' friends ended up not going into Wild Bill's, but he insisted on going in and finding a ride home, so his friends agreed and took off. "Our baby just went home with the wrong people," says Kim Oliver, a close family friend.

Nov. 2 marked a changed day for Gaines' family and loved ones. When Erika thinks back to Nov. 4, the day she was given the news, she says, "When his friends called, I knew that what I feared early in the day was really happening."

The weekend of Justin's disappearance, before anyone figured out he was missing, Erika and Steven had begun to get a strange feeling about things. Erika began frantically searching on Facebook and MySpace for recent comments or to see what close friends were saying; no luck, though.

As many would, friends and family of Gaines began to make missing person flyers to aid in the search for their beloved friend, son and brother. "Justin is very lucky to have friends that care so very deeply about him -- flyers were out before daybreak," Erika says. "I am thankful for the friends that helped, for they kept me focused, for so much had to be done."

Erika sits back and tries to remember the hurtful memories that will haunt her forever as her eyes fill up with tears thinking about when the searches for her son began.

She said, "During the searches we had when I physically went out on the search to look for my son in the woods, ditches and the side of the road, not knowing what I might find was very psychological. After two times I knew it was something I could not do."

This was how many of Gaines' friends felt, but they knew they couldn't give up.

Pain comes in different forms, and it is different for Justin's brothers and sister. The Wilsons feel they might have lost their connection with one son; he has distanced himself from the family because it hurt too much to be involved. Other members of Gaines' family keep praying while Kelly McGill, Gaines' aunt, said, "He is the light of so many people's world, and we need to bring him home. He is missed so much."

There has not only been a strain on the children, but also a huge strain on Erika and Steven's marriage. In ways, this situation has brought them closer. "He has been my rock through all of this," Erika said. But when she gets severely depressed, she pulls away from everyone, and this is very straining on everyone involved.

Erika grows deeper in her sorrow every day that news stories are announced about his disappearance and every moment that this gets buried deeper in the cold case files for the Gwinnett County Police Department.

Bob Poulnot, a private investigator for the case, has been working diligently to bring peace to the friends and family. Officials are still puzzled at how this has happened. Small pieces of evidence have been released to the public over the past two years, with more to come out soon. Grainy surveillance videos surfaced in December 2007, but after that, absolutely nothing. A forensic astrologer has been analyzing the case.

Gaines' family says that valuable time passed while the GCPD treated the case not as foul play but as if he ran off on his own. Gaines was an 18-year-old man, and "it took months convincing officials that he would not run away from his life," says Steven, Gaines' stepfather. Once officials classified the case as foul play, much information and time had already slipped away.

It is still an active case, but only worked on when police receive new information they feel has merit to be investigated. Officials say there is a lot of information, but nothing that leads to the answer of what happened to Gaines.

The two-year anniversary of Gaines' disappearance is approaching. Monday is a day Erika can't bear to talk about.

"Sad to say I have tried not to think about it. I have pushed that out of my mind, for it's not a happy anniversary. I know I will be in tears and thinking of him," she said as she caught two tears that streamed down her face.

Katie Coon is a junior at Gainesville State College and a photographer and writer for The Voice, the Gainesville State College Oconee Campus newspaper. She is a graduate of Grayson High School.