News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 11, 2012

Ten years after disappearance, Merv and Doreena Javins continue on, reach out to others

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Ever since her son went missing more than 10 years ago, Doreena Javins has worn an angel-shaped pin with a charm in the shape of a heart, and on that heart is engraved his name: Scott.

Twenty-year-old Scott disappeared May 24, 2002, and what followed was a five-year nightmare as Doreena and her husband, Merv, searched, waited and hoped for the return of their son.

While they did eventually find him, he never returned home.

On Oct. 12, 2007, police found Scott’s car, and his remains, in the Wabash River just south of Fairbanks Park.

Scott may be physically gone, but as far as his parents are concerned, he’s with them every day.

“He’s my guardian angel. He watches over me now,” said Doreena, who also wears a Pandora bracelet with Scott’s initials, birthstone and charms symbolic of the son she lost.

“We think about him every day,” Merv Javins said during an interview at their home Nov. 1.

While they’re remodeling their North Terre Haute home, they have pictures of Scott in “every room but the bathroom,” Doreena said.

Merv, 57, says they have been able to go on with their lives. “You can’t stop living your life. You’ve got to continue on. It’s tough, though, with Scott being our only child,” he said.

They wonder who will take care of them as they grow older.

“Sometimes it gets kind of lonely without him,” he said. “Especially when you’re with people and they’ve got grandchildren, and you’re kind of thinking, gosh, we’ll never have grandchildren.”

They are thankful to good friends Ed and Cindy Ping, who along with their family, have embraced the Javinses. When Scott disappeared, Ed Ping stepped forward and organized search parties.

The Pings’ daughters call the Javinses “Mom and Dad 2,” and the Pings’ granddaughter, 5-year-old Ayla Wheeler, “calls us grandma and grandpa,” Doreena said. The families are planning a trip to Disney World.

“How do you thank somebody like that?” Doreena said. “I tell them all the time how much we appreciate it.”

Ninth annual candlelight vigil

The holidays are especially difficult for those who have lost a loved one, and the Javinses are preparing to host the ninth annual Candlelight Vigil and Christmas Tree Lighting at 6 p.m. Saturday. The event will be conducted at the Ribbon of Hope on the south side of Terre Haute City Hall.

The Javinses began the program the year Scott disappeared.

The vigil is intended to honor all victims of crime, missing persons and all military, past and present. The program includes posting of colors, music, poems, speakers and lighting of two trees, one for victims of crime and missing persons, and the other for military.

One of the trees will be lit by Malissa and Wesley Owens, whose son, Leylahnd, died in a motorcycle accident earlier this year. The driver of the car that hit him was later arrested on two counts of driving while intoxicated resulting in serious bodily injury.

“We thought it would be a good thing to reach out and help some of the other families cope during the holiday period,” Merv said. “It gives families an opportunity to come out during the holidays and share stories and talk about those they have lost.”

The public is welcome to attend, and after the vigil, refreshments will be served in City Hall.

Last year, the vigil occurred on Nov. 19, which would have been Scott’s 30th birthday. The refreshments included a birthday cake.

“We do it to help other families get through the holiday,” but also, to honor the memory of their son, Doreena said.

For the Javinses, questions remain

Scott was a 20-year-old Indiana State University student when he disappeared in the early morning hours of May 24, 2002. He was last seen leaving a party near 22nd Street and First Avenue. Other than a phone conversation with his mother that morning around 2, Scott was not heard from again. He lived with his parents, and had told his mom he was on his way home.

Over the next five years, police investigated and received numerous tips –  some of them false — but none led to Scott. It was as though he simply vanished into thin air, and over time, chances of solving the disappearance appeared bleak.

Finally, on Oct. 12, 2007, Scott’s car and remains were recovered from the Wabash River near a boat ramp in Fairbanks Park.

After a forensic investigation, officials declared Scott’s death an accidental drowning. They concluded that Scott drove into the park, parked his Honda Civic Si in fifth gear on the decline of the boat ramp, then went to sleep. Fifth gear did not hold the car in place, and it slowly rolled into the river, where Scott drowned.

At the time, Vigo County Sheriff Jon Marvel stated that unless the coroner presented new information, “We will consider this case closed.”

But in November 2012, 10 years after Scott disappeared and five years after his remains were recovered, the Javinses don’t consider the case closed.

“There are still a lot of unanswered questions. The story that was told back when they recovered Scott almost looked to me like a Hollywood script that was put together,” Merv said.

Supposedly, a witness saw Scott’s car stopped the night of his disappearance and a burgundy Buick behind it, Merv said. Later, months after Scott’s car was pulled from the river, a burgundy Buick was recovered from the river, Merv said. They say they’ve asked questions but never received answers.

They also don’t believe Scott would go to the park by himself. “He wouldn’t go anywhere by himself,” his mom said.

And, they said, Scott knew better than to park on a boat ramp. “He went fishing with his dad numerous times … He knew not to do anything like that,” Doreena said.

Vigo County Sheriff Greg Ewing said that after he took office in 2011, he met with the Javinses to hear their concerns and open the lines of communication. If any new information were to come forward, the case would be re-opened, he said.

At the same time, “We may never absolutely know what happened that night,” Ewing said.

The sheriff said he feels for the Javinses, who lost their only child. “I can’t fathom what it would be like,” Ewing said.

Regardless of whether the Javinses ultimately find answers to their questions, “You can never have closure,” Merv said. “A parent should never have to bury a child.”

They cherish the memories

The Javinses described their son as a typical young man who loved cars, fishing, music and basketball. “We never had any problems with him,” Doreena said.

He was getting good grades at ISU as he pursued his degree in safety risk management. He lived at home, and on days when he wasn’t working, Doreena would leave a list of chores for him to do; Scott would check them off as he completed them.

The five years he was missing was “a nightmare,” Doreena said. “You don’t wish that upon anybody.”  

For five years, “It just consumed us,” Merv said. “Other than our jobs, that is basically everything we did was try to search for Scott” and try to keep his story “out there.”

The Javinses appeared on the Nancy Grace and Greta Van Susteren programs, and even The Amazing Kreskin, a nationally known mentalist, came to Terre Haute to help the family.

The couple was sustained by the support they received from friends, family and the community. Doreena also went to a counselor. “I had to have someone to talk to,” she said.

They found the strength to keep going. And hoping. “You just don’t give up. You can’t give up,” Doreena said.

Now, when they learn of other cases involving missing children in the area, they offer their support. “If it hadn’t been for Ed and Cindy Ping, I don’t know what we would have done,” Doreena said.

Doreena also has been involved with Compassionate Friends, an organization that supports bereaved families after the death of a child.

Both inside and outside their home, reminders of Scott are everywhere, from the pictures in each room, to the statues and plaques in the front yard.

Scott’s bedroom has been painted twice, and Doreena now uses it for scrapbooking, but, “It’s still his room,” she said.

The room has photos and collages that tell Scott’s story, from pre-birth — when Doreena was pregnant — to a photo taken on Mother’s Day just a few weeks before Scott died.

The photos show a little boy holding a basketball, the family’s last vacation together in Branson, Mo., and Scott’s first Halloween, when Doreena took a snow suit and made it a bunny costume.

She’s made scrapbooks of his school years and basketball years and now is working on one that tells the story of his life.

Sometimes, the Javinses’ “adopted” granddaughter, Ayla Wheeler, asks them about Scott, and Doreena responds, “We tell her he’s in heaven, and we’ll see him again someday.”

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or