August 23, 2014

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Wait goes on for man missing six months

NORTH RIDGEVILLE — It’s been six months today since 19-year-old Justin Gaines vanished without a trace from a Georgia bar, and investigators said they’ve exhausted every lead.

“We’ve pretty much done everything possible from this point. Now we’re just waiting for someone to come forward,” Gwinnett County sheriff’s Officer David Schiralli said.

Since Nov. 17, agencies have joined in 18 searches for the North Ridgeville native and 29 detectives have spent 2,100 man-hours conducting 140 interviews and processing 270 pieces of evidence.

But all those numbers have added up to nothing, Schiralli said.

Richard Gaines, who lives in North Ridgeville, said he is not giving up hope that his son will be found safe. Still, he lives every day fearing that the next time his phone rings it will bring the worst possible news.

“My heart drops out every time it rings,” he said. “I pick it up and most times my hand starts shaking. Sometimes I don’t want to find out who’s on the other end.”

Justin’s family is offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to his safe return. They will also pay $25,000 for a tip that leads to the recovery of his body.

Justin was last seen early Nov. 2 at a bar called Wild Bill’s in Duluth, Ga., investigators said. He had been visiting his mother on a weekend break from Gainesville State College, where he was a freshman.

According to his father, Justin called a friend about 2 a.m. to try to get a ride. The friend said he couldn’t help and Justin vanished about a half-hour later.

His mother, Erika Wilson, grew worried and started calling hospitals the following day.

Schiralli said many of the people interviewed in the last few months were at Wild Bill’s with Justin. Richard Gaines said the club typically has about 3,500 customers on a Thursday night.

“I’ve been in that bar. I’ve stood where he stood. I know what kind of crowd can gather. It’s huge. There’s no way somebody wouldn’t have seen what happened to Justin,” his father said.

Searches covering a 30-mile radius around the bar turned up nothing, Schiralli said.

Meanwhile, Justin’s family has hired a private investigator to continue looking for leads around Wild Bill’s and talk to patrons.

“He had everything going for him,” Richard Gaines said. “He had good grades, a part-time job on the weekend to pay for his apartment, support from his brother and sister in Georgia. He had no reason to run.”

He said his worst nightmare is that Justin did find someone to give him a ride, but it was the wrong kind of person. Richard Gaines said investigators believe his son was the victim of foul play, but Schiralli refused to say whether that is his department’s stance.

Justin attended school in North Ridgeville until second grade when he moved to Georgia. Many members of his family still live here and organized fundraisers in February and March to help the search.

Another benefit is scheduled for May 17 at Rebman’s Bowling Alley in Lorain.

Tickets are $16 for adults and $10 for children 12 and under. Registration will be noon to 12:45 p.m. and bowling will start at 1 p.m. For information, call (440) 506-0410 or e-mail searchforjustin@live.com.

Contact Jason Hawk at 329-7148 or jhawk@chroniclet.com.