By Cynthia Caron
Beautiful Donna Jou, age 19, pushed aside her college books and decided to grab a quick bite to eat. The beautiful 78 degree weather that June day in 2007 made indoor air conditioning feel refreshing. Donna, an honor roll student on the Dean’s List at San Diego University had decided that she needed to be ready to meet with a young man named Sinjin Stevens whom she had exchanged email messages with since late May, early June. Donna met Sinjin on Craigslist where she advertised as a Math Tutor to help earn extra spending money during her own college days. This was not unusual for Donna as she always volunteered or helped others since her early teen years.
Donna graduated from Clear Lake High School in May 2006 with a GPA of 4.4 and SAT scores of 1,570.
She was tutoring mathematics during her last two years of high school and donated over 100 hours of her time to help her fellow students. She also worked full time as a volunteer in St. John Hospital's Pathology Laboratories under direction of Dr. Moore in the summer of 2005. Donna had a fondness for all people in need so it was very proud moments for her family to know that she also supported the Interfaith Ministries as a volunteer including collecting nonperishable foods from grocery stores and delivering to food pantries for those less fortunate. That was who Donna was. A caring person who always wanted to do well and help others.
She also was quite brilliant. During her senior year at Clear Lake High School, she took a course named "Independent Study Mentor ship” under the direction of her mentor, NASA Senior Scientist,Dr. Deborah Harm. Donna studied Neurophysiology, Vestibular System, Spaceflight and negative effects on astronauts' balance upon their return to earth at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the Johnson Space Center ,Houston, Texas. Shortly after she was admitted to the NASA's Summer High School Apprenticeship Program. As well as baby sitting for the Battered Women Shelters, she has volunteered as a cashier in the Bay Area Turning Point Resale Shop in Nassau Bay, Texas in support of women shelters. The pretty teenager had a full life and many happy days to look forward.
Most importantly, Donna’s dream was to become a Neurosurgeon. However, that was not to become. Her life was cut short on that beautiful evening of June 23, 2007. All dreams and ambitions came to a halt that eve, while her parent’s and sibling’s nightmare began.
Around 5:30 p.m. Sinjin Stevens showed up to pick up Donna on his motorcycle. However, he was not named Sinjin and was actually a man named Steven Burgess, a convicted child molester who was supposed to be registered in the state of California.
Donna grabbed her books and hopped on the back of Burgess's 1981 Yamaha motorcycle outside her Rancho Santa Margarita apartment. At the same time, her family leaves for dinner and watches the motorcycle exit the 241 at Portola. At 6:08 p.m., Nili Jou, Donna’s mother, receives a text message from her daughter's cell phone that read "Battery's dying. I'm in San Diego. Be home soon. I love you Mommy.” She smiled as she set her cell phone down. She knew her daughter was very responsible and still loved when she called her “Mommy.” However, as any mother will tell you, a deep nagging thought bothered her and she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.
The next morning Donna was due to be at her classes and at work. She did not show up. Friends looked around and realizing that Donna was not in class began to worry. Donna always texted her small circle of close friends and had she been ill, she surely would have sent them a message. At the least, the young responsible young woman would have asked her friends to gather her needed assignments. When Donna did not show up to work it was a certain sign that something was not right. Upon realizing that she never came home Donna’s parents began making frantic phone calls looking for her. They immediately filed a report with the local police department. Fear gripped their hearts. Maybe she lost track of time? Perhaps she and the man she was to tutor were in an accident? No matter the thoughts none were good. As the days moved forward without their beautiful daughter and sister, Donna’s family was in a terrible state of shock. How can their daughter just disappear from the face of this earth? If ever a responsible and wonderful person, why their beautiful child? Where was Donna?
The Orange County Sheriff's Department began their search of Donna’s computer and entered her into the NCIC FBI database for missing persons. An intense investigation began and soon Sheriff's officials narrow their search to a man named Steven Burgess aka Sinjin Stevens. The license plates and descriptions of his Ford Ranger pickup and motorcycle are publicized as well as his photograph. It was soon discovered that Burgess’s roommates reported seeing him pack up his truck with cardboard boxes and that was the last they saw of him. A few days later, a citizen finds a plastic tool box stuffed under bougainvillea vines about a mile and a half from Burgess's house. Inside the box are the vanity license plates "SINJIN 1" from Burgess' truck, a black motorcycle helmet, rubber dishwashing gloves, rope and a scrub brush. The family’s heart was gripped in a state of shock. Could he have abducted Donna and taken her somewhere? Is she drugged and tied up? They were relentless and would not sleep and barely ate and would not until their child was safely brought home.
On July 9, a little over two weeks since Donna became missing, the Orange County sheriff's investigators and members of LAPD's Robbery and Homicide Division
return to Burgess' house and spend hours interviewing his roommates and searching the property.
Several knives are found in a backyard cabinet and were processed to be tested for blood residue. Meanwhile missing posters have been hung in every possible high-trafficked area hoping that someone will recognize Donna and have the needed answers for her return home. There was very little doubt in the minds of the investigators. Donna was not going to be home safely.
Investigators worked around the clock to locate Steven Burgess and soon found him in Florida. He was extradited to Los Angeles and booked into the LA County Jail. Bond was set at $250,000.00 on a host of charges. Burgess was able to make bail and proceeded to flee the state of California. On September 30 he was once again located in Florida under an assumed name of Logan Anderson. He had a fake ID, drivers license and social security card. He was extradited once again back to Los Angeles where his bail was now set at $500,000.00. Because Burgess was supposed to be registered as a sex offender; and did not, along with other felony charges, on October 10 he was sentenced to 3-years in prison. None of the charges related to the disappearance of Donna. Ongoing searches for Donna was conducted and led by the Trinity Search and Rescue team. They searched, along with over 198 volunteers, the Santa Monica mountains for any signs of Donna. She was never located.
A full year went by while Burgess served time in the California Correctional Institute and a Grand Jury investigation was called and throughout the process it convened with a confession from Steven Burgess. On March 14, 2009 Burgess released from Prison (for charges un-related to Donna), was re-arrested and brought to LA county Jail to stand charges related for the disappearance of Donna. He was arraigned & charged with killing Donna Jou, bail set at 1,000,000.00. Donna’s family retained the famous lawyer, Gloria Allred and while they had excellent representation Steven Burgess chose to dismiss his lawyer and represent himself at trial. Burgess was brought to court, he signed the paperwork to represent himself and waived his right to an attorney.
On May 06, 2009, further trauma was added to the heartache and pain of losing their beautiful daughter as Steven Burgess pleaded guilty to Involuntary Manslaughter and Concealment of Accidental
Death and claimed that Donna died during a self administered accidental drug overdose and that he panicked and dumped her body into the Pacific Ocean. Due to the fact that no body was found, to prove or disprove his story, he was sentenced to only 5 years in the state prison and 3 years probation! Groups marched outside the courtroom for justice but justice was not to be served!
Protesters demand to know “Where is Donna?”
The family and friends of Donna were horrified! They knew that their daughter never would have taken drugs willingly and certainly would not have joined in any type of “partying” and her death was no accident! Donna’s father, Reza Jou, hired an independent team to do water searches hoping to find the earthly body of his daughter to bring her home for a proper burial. Donna’s mother lived in a state of shock. How can the very same system that she swore to uphold while making her American Citizenship fail them?
Donna’s family live with the pain every day since that awful morning of June 24, 2007 when they realized their child was missing. Compounding that grief was the injustice that the very person that Donna set out to tutor, who in their eyes and in the eyes of many, was clearly responsible for them to never see Donna’s beautiful smile, her happy disposition and her kind and caring soul ever again. Further adding to the horror and pain, it was learned that of the 5 years sentenced that Burgess would be released, on good behavior, two full years before his five year sentence was completed. This was determined without a parole hearing and was automatically granted.
Steven Burgess is due to be released in April 2011. In a public letter to his daughter, Donna’s father writes “I have and will continue to do whatever is necessary to maintain my strength and courage throughout this ordeal. While I have many days when my world seems to be spinning out of control, I counter that with a sense of hope that you will still one day return to us. Even against all odds and even when things seem not to be going our way, I keep in my memory and I know in my soul that miracles really do happen and that justice will ultimately prevail.”tat
|Donna and her mother, Nila Jou|
How much more pain can this family endure? In my many conversations with Donna’s parents, one thing is clear. They will stop at nothing to be sure the public is aware that Steven Burgess is about to be released and warns that the residents of California needs to know that a cruel sick man is about to be released onto the streets to perhaps one day cause harm to another child. This is the outrage that they are facing and pray that no family ever has to experience what they’ve endured. They know that Steven Burgess may have committed many more crimes that have not yet been reported and they ask if any young person, who now may be of age, to please come forward. If any victims of Steven Burgess, who may have been molested, to please come forward and make those charges public. It is known that a predator does not stop and that many victims are in the past of predators and molesters and if any those potential victims can find the strength to please come forward, Donna’s family needs you. They need all possible charges of crimes that he’s committed to be accounted for before he is released into the world to commit more monstrous crimes against others. They also ask if anyone has viable information on what happened to Donna to please contact authorities.
FURTHER INFORMATION CAN BE READ ONLINE AT: http://www.donnajou.com
$15,000 Reward for any information in finding Donna Jou.
If you have any information regarding Donna please
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