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Clues into [TX] teens' disappearance elusive
Houston Chronicle ^ | January 24, 2003

Posted on 01/24/2003 9:59:59 PM PST by Sweet_Sunflower29

TRINITY -- The cowboy worked on the flatbed of his black pickup truck with silent determination, affixing three-pronged fishhooks to a 5-foot piece of conduit.

When he was finished, he had a drag bar that would be pulled across the bottom of Lake Livingston in the hope it would hook a piece of clothing and answer the question: What happened to Melissa Mercer and Kevin Young?

"The family wants it to end as good as possible, but also as quick as possible. They need to have some closure," said a co-worker of Young's stepfather, Charles Dewey.

The man, who did not want to be identified, was one of more than 100 volunteers who gathered on the chilly lake bank Thursday morning to hunt for something none particularly wanted to find -- the bodies of the two Houston-area teenagers who have been missing since Sunday.

Many of the volunteers had been there for four days, sleeping in tents and borrowed campers, walking the banks or trolling boats back and forth across the north end of the 83,000-acre lake, dragging bars like the cowboy's in case the bodies of the two 17-year-olds are water-soaked and submerged.

They quit at sundown Thursday, no closer to a resolution than when they began.

The Mercer family owns a piece of property in Westwood Shores, a golf course community about two miles outside this small East Texas town, and has a motor home parked on it.

They have been vacationing there for 25 years. Last weekend, they brought Young, Melissa Mercer's boyfriend.

The 17-year-old students at Jersey Village High School were last seen by Mercer's parents when the teens left for a boat ride on the lake.

The purpose of the trip was to introduce Young, an avid deer hunter, to duck hunting. Melissa Mercer's father, Jim, and Young hit the blinds first thing Saturday morning, then again Saturday afternoon. When they were still empty-handed Sunday morning, they decided to store the guns and relax at the lake one more day before driving back to their homes near Jersey Village.

Sunday afternoon, the teens took a flat-bottom aluminum boat onto the lake. When they had not returned by sunset, the Mercers became concerned.

At about 5:30 p.m, Charla Mercer called her daughter's cellular phone. The call went straight into voice mail. By 7:30 p.m., they called police, and rescue crews from Trinity County and Westwood Shores began a search.

Rescue workers found the boat Monday morning about 1,000 yards north of where it had been launched. Inside were three life jackets, oars, and the piece of boudin sausage still wrapped in tinfoil that Charla Mercer had given her daughter for the excursion.

The lid to the outboard motor was off, but that was not unusual. It had been off all weekend because the recoil on the starter rope was not working properly and sometimes had to be rewound manually. If they had motor trouble, the teens could have rowed back to shore.

So what happened? It is a question that rescue workers and family members continue to ask themselves.

Did one of the teenagers fall overboard and the other jump in to rescue? Did one or both get thrown from the boat? Did they get out to explore an uninhabited stretch of shoreline or an island and wind up lost?

"We just don't know, and we won't ever know," said Trinity County Sheriff Brent Phillips.

At this point, rescue workers no longer believe the teenagers are alive. Phillips said they have no choice. The shoreline has been walked and re-walked by volunteers. Every lakeside property owner has been contacted, and none saw the teens or found any evidence that someone had been on their property.

"Enough time has passed between Sunday and this morning to lead us to believe they had not made it to shore, they were most likely in the lake," Phillips said.

Mercer and Young met at Jersey Village High School at the start of the school year and have been inseparable since.

Mercer, a junior, has nearly an A average, said Principal Ralph Funk. She is enrolled in traditional classes as well as one offered by the agricultural department -- floral design.

Young, a senior at Jersey Village, which has more than 3,000 students, is a solid student in his second year of automotive technology, Funk said.

"He's a good, quiet student. He isn't a student that everybody in school knows," Funk said. "She is better known, with a broader scope of friends."

Funk also said he has heard that both are "pretty good swimmers. Kevin has even completed a boater safety course."

So if the boat did have engine problems, Young had the skills to take a stab at fixing it, Funk said.

About two dozen students closest to the pair are taking their disappearance the hardest.

"Students who normally are cheerful seem less so," Funk said. "You can look at these students and see the anxiety on their faces."

Several have availed themselves of school counselors' services and cried during these sessions. Earlier in the week, others helped in the search.

The search also has taken its toll on the high school and school district staff.

Dalana Dewey, Young's mother, began working at the high school in August as a special education teacher's assistant. Mercer's mother is a Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District employee, the long-time secretary for the district's maintenance unit.

"We're taking the approach of staying positive and holding out hope," Funk said.

While the families also continue to hope for a happy ending, they are ready to take any kind they can get.

"We just want answers," Dalana Dewey said. "It's time for us to take our kids home."

The Mercers lost a son 12 years ago. Austin, 12, was killed when he was run over by a friend's motorbike. Charla Mercer said her husband has considered Young the son he no longer had.

And Dalana Dewey said Melissa Mercer -- whom family and friends called Missy -- is like the daughter she never had.

"I would always tell him (Young), 'if something happens between you two, she stays, you go,' " she said.

"If God took them," Dewey said, "he got the best, two angels."

TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; Culture/Society; News/Current Events; US: Texas

1 posted on 01/24/2003 9:59:59 PM PST by Sweet_Sunflower29
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To: Sweet_Sunflower29
My father-in-law is helping with the search and rescue team. From what I have been told, no sign of either one of them. I have been praying for their safe return.
2 posted on 01/24/2003 10:08:55 PM PST by Orange1998
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To: Orange1998
I am adding my prayers along with yours.
If you happen upon additional information of this case, I'd appreciate hearing it.
3 posted on 01/25/2003 12:05:30 AM PST by Sweet_Sunflower29
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To: Sweet_Sunflower29
I just heard they found her in the water. No word yet of the boyfriend being found. May GOD be with them forever and always.
4 posted on 02/02/2003 11:53:51 AM PST by Orange1998
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