Donna Jou: A Father’s Pain
Before reading, take a close look at these pictures. You make hold the key to solve the disappearance of 20-year-old Donna Jou. First some facts. She just finished her freshman year at San Diego State University. She has brown hair and brown eyes. At 5’3, she weighs about 110 pounds. She was last seen in Rancho Santa Margarita, California on June 23. Described by her father as book smart but very street naive, she trusted everyone and believed everyone had good in them. That all changed when she met a man online through the website Craigslist. How she came to know John Steven Burgess is a mystery to her family, but she did. Burgess is a felon convicted of three counts of battery and performing lewd acts on a child. That’s not the persona he let Donna believe. He sent her photos of himself. The problem is, they weren’t pictures of him. On June 23 he picked Donna up from her home where she lived with her mother Nili. She climbed onto the back of his motorcycle and went to what was said to be a party. That was the last her family ever saw from her. She did make it to the party and was very uncomfortable. People tried to give her drugs which she refused. She sat away from the people and kept to herself. Around midnight, the party ended and the residents of the house went to bed. Donna was sitting by herself waiting to be taken home. Burgess also stayed up. When the residents awoke the next day, Burgess was there, but Donna was gone. We know about the drugs and Donna’s demeanor based on a couple of things. First, at some point, she locked herself in the bathroom and called a friend telling him about the drugs. That friend didn’t realize this was a call for help and let it go. Second, police interviewed the residents and they confirmed her demeanor and the fact she was there when they went to bed and gone when they awoke. Donna’s father Reza believes, based on the knowledge he has on Burgess that she may have been given to or sold to either drug dealers or the underground porn industry. At this point, he refuses to believe the worst. That’s the background. Now here are some pictures and after you see her and embrace her, read her story. This could be anyone’s daughter. And like I said, you may unknowingly hold the key that can bring Donna home.
Donna and her father Reza
It was the evening of October 14, 1987, 5:30 p.m to be exact, when Donna Jou entered the world. “She was very beautiful,” Reza Jou, her father said. “We had a birthing room for her and I was there the entire time. She was so beautiful and she didn’t cry. She just looked around with those brown eyes of hers. She was so alert and yet so tiny–just over 6 pounds. I fell in love with her immediately. She was a beautiful addition to our family.”
Donna is the youngest child born to Reva and his wife Nili. Lisa, Donna’s big sister just graduated from law school and is in practice in California. Her brother Daniel is in his senior year at Harvard majoring in physics and philosophy. Reza, who immigrated to the United States from Iran when he was a teenager, is a systems engineer with Boeing assigned to NASA’s International Space Station program. Brilliance is in the family genes.
But Donna was Reza’s baby. “I couldn’t wait to come home from work to see her,” he said. “And she was always excited to see me. We are very close.” It wasn’t long before everyone could see the intelligence of this little girl. She excelled in school and she excelled within the community. “She had a very giving personality,” Reza said choking back tears. “She loved to give.”
She was called “Super Math” in elementary school, a nickname given based on her uncanny ability to tackle arithmetic like no one else. Her grades were never below 99%. “I was so proud of her. She was a hard worker and never gave up,” Reza said. “I used to travel a lot for work. And when I’d arrive to wherever I was going, I would always find notes from Donna in every pocket I had. Love notes. She would always worry when I traveled and we’d talk by phone every day. If I was ever late, she’d worry and call me as soon as my plane landed.”
Donna went to Clear Lake High School in Houston graduating with a 4.4 GPA. Her SAT scores were 1,570. For those of you unfamiliar with SAT scores, a test used for college acceptance, 1000 is about average. But it was more than just academics Donna excelled in. She would also volunteer at battered women’s shelters and in clothing stores that benefited women’s shelters. She would also collect food for the needy and make sure the food pantries were taken care of. “She is a very passionate person,” Reza said. “She has a passion for people. Some people give and take. She would only give. If I ever said anything negative about someone, she’d chastise me and tell me not to be so judgmental. She always saw the good in people.”
When she was a child, she met a cousin…Reza’s nephew…who had been paralyzed in a helicopter accident. “She couldn’t understand why he was unable to walk,” Reza recalled. “She wanted to find a way to help him.” That’s when she decided she wanted to become a doctor…specifically a neurosurgeon, so she could help people like her cousin. In the summer of 2005 she worked full-time as a volunteer at St. John’s Pathology Laboratory. During her high school senior year, she entered a mentorship program and studied neurophysiology and the negative effects spaceflight had on astronauts’ balance following their return to earth. In the summer of 2006, she was accepted into NASA’s Summer High School Apprenticeship Program (SHARP) at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. This was a woman who was determined and at the same time, always put others’ needs ahead of hers. “She was very book smart,” Reza said. “She just wasn’t very street smart. It’s sad to say but I feel she was too trusting of other people.”
Donna’s parents divorced in 1999 but they always lived close by. Reza and Donna spoke by phone everyday and would always get together. When Donna was accepted to San Diego State University, Nili decided to move to southern California to be with her daughter. That’s where Donna lived at the time of her disappearance.
Following her freshman year, Donna wanted to do something she did in high school. Tutor others in math. She placed an ad on Craigslist offering her services for $6.00 an hour. “I told her I’d pay her not to do it,” Reza said. “But money wasn’t the point to her. She wanted to help others.”
John Steven Burgess
It’s a mystery on how John Steven Burgess found her ad or who initiated the contact. According to Reza, Burgess had placed several ads himself on the website for things like selling cats he found, providing contacts for a fee to young people who had come to Hollywood looking for stardom…just about anything to make money. Somehow, Burgess convinced Donna to go to a party. He sent a picture to her saying it was him. It wasn’t. She had no idea he was a convicted felon. He arrived at her mother’s home and picked her up on a motorcycle, wearing a helmet. She couldn’t see his face clearly.
I won’t rehash what I wrote at the beginning of this entry but there is an important detail to keep in mind. The authorities know where John Steven Burgess is. He’s sitting in a California jail cell on charges unrelated to Donna’s disappearance. And he says he does have information on what happened to her. But he’s hiding behind the 5th Amendment to the Constitution and won’t incriminate himself. That is unless he gets some sort of sweet deal which, to this point, the district attorney is not agreeing to.
A tool box, like you’d see on the back of a pickup truck, was found hidden nearby Burgess’ house. In it contained a scrub brush, gloves, rope and Burgess’ truck license plates. Why this tool box was discarded is unclear, but it’s not a good sign.
Donna and her mother Nili
Since her disappearance, Reza cannot sleep. He lies in bed waiting for the phone to ring. It doesn’t. He no longer has the urge to eat or drink and must force himself to do so. Already a slim man, he has lost 30 pounds. He can’t focus and sometimes finds himself driving with no idea where he is. But he’s not giving up hope. “John Burgess has a criminal record but there’s nothing as violent as murder in his past,” he said. “He is all about making money. That’s all he cares about. I think he did something with Donna, whether it’s selling her or trading her to a drug dealer or even selling her into the porn industry which Burgess was a part of. I don’t know. All I want to do is find Donna and bring her home.”
UPDATE 12/1/11: While Donna’s is not a cold case, she still has not been found. Until that happens, her family will never give up. They want her returned and for them, her case will always be open.