WHAT happened to Donny Govan?
It’s a mystery that has baffled his family and police for six years.
When the then 16-year-old vanished from an Echuca campsite, never to be seen again.
Police believe Donny may have drowned in the river, but his family still hold out hope he’s alive somewhere.
On August 31, 2012, Donny travelled to Echuca to spend a weekend camping by the river, about 1km north of Braund Rd, with older sister Rachael O’Keane and four other friends, all from Ballarat.
He left his mobile phone and wallet at home.
About 8.30pm the following day, September 1, Donny began to act paranoid and erratic.
He begged his sister to drive him home to Ballarat, but she had been drinking, so she offered to take him the next morning.
Then without warning, he bolted down an unsealed track before darting into dense bushland, towards a billabong.
Detective Senior Constable Jason Hare of Campaspe Criminal Investigation Unit was working the next morning and got the phone call about a missing boy.
‘‘When I got out there, I remember how foggy it was and the river was up. And there was mist coming off the river,’’ he said.
‘‘I remember looking at the river and thinking ‘wow’, how high that is.’’
Rachael and the friends told Det. Snr Constable Hare there had been a bit of a disagreement with Donny before he ran off.
‘‘I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a major thing, just trivial, but he had taken it the wrong way. They thought he got a bit paranoid about it and people were talking about him but they weren’t,’’ he said.
‘‘I certainly got the feeling when we spoke to the witnesses at the time that they expected him to show up. That he wouldn’t be far away. And then obviously as time progressed, he never returned.’’
Local search and rescue and crews and Victoria Police air, canine and search and rescue units failed to find any trace of the teen.
‘‘Where he went missing, besides the river, there was the lagoon on the other side. It’s actually quite shallow and that was all searched but obviously there was no sign of him.
‘‘The search went on for a while. We did another helicopter fly-over and Search and Rescue came back and looked along the river as the levels dropped, but they never found anything to indicate he was there.’’
There have been several reported sightings of Donny since his disappearance, including a woman in Pakenham St who contacted police claiming she had seen Donny and provided him with breakfast on the Sunday morning.
‘‘In her statement, she describes someone of similar type, age and build to Donny, but we’re not convinced whether it was or wasn’t him,’’ Det. Snr Constable Hare said.
‘‘She couldn’t identify him as being the person in the photos. Certainly her description was very similar to Donny and at the time made us think perhaps he had.’’
There have also been reports of Donny living on the streets of Melbourne, and sightings in Western Australia, NSW and Queensland, but all have led to dead ends.
‘‘None of it has led to anything that we’ve been able to substantiate to indicate where or what’s happened to Donny,’’ Det. Snr Constable Hare said.
Sister Rachael O’Keane, who was with Donny on the night he disappeared, said there were several reasons she believed her brother was out there somewhere.
‘‘There has not been a body found, there has been no information leading us to believe that he is dead and hope is the only thing that keeps us sane and continuing the search for him,’’ she said.
‘‘There is a possibility he may be out there and know we are looking for him and not want to get in contact with us, but we love him and hope he knows that. Not giving up on him must prove that and we will not give up searching for him until we have answers.’’
As for Det. Snr Constable Hare, he is not so sure Donny made it out of the bush alive.
‘‘The most likely scenario is that he’s had an accident out there by the river and fallen into the river,’’ he said.
‘‘It seems more probable than not at this point.’’
In saying that, Det. Snr Constable Hare said ‘‘you would have hoped if he had fallen in then he would have been found by now’’.
‘‘It’s been a tough one for the family. They’ve done their best and continued to try and find him and do media and keep Donny’s name out there.’’
It’s certainly been a traumatic six years for Donny’s family.
‘‘The longer we do not have answers, the harder it gets,’’ his sister Rachael said.
‘‘We have had a lot of time to think of scenarios as to what has happened to him, where he is and who he could be with but because we have had no leads we always end up back with having no clue.
‘‘As Donny was 16 at the time, we also struggle with the fact he may look different now. He might have grown a beard and his appearance may have changed. We are still looking for that boy and he might not look like that now.
‘‘With a missing person in the family, time does not heal and pain, if anything, gets harder as time goes on with the reality we still do not know where he is even after this length of time.’’
And time is no friend to police, who face the possibility that this case may never be solved.
‘‘It’s at the point of where do we go now and what can we do to try and find him?’’ Det. Snr Constable Hare said.
‘‘We’ve done a lot of media and we’ve done a lot of campaigns to find him and we haven’t been able to. It’s a nightmare, that’s what it is. A nightmare. Not only for the family but for the people who were camping there. They’ve all suffered from it.’’