The last time Rachael O’Keane saw her 16-year-old brother, he was running as fast as he could down a small bush track, away from their Echuca campsite.
That was two weeks ago.
Now the search for Linton’s Donald “Donny” Govan is desperate.
Police have now told his frantic family to go back to work, back to school and if any new leads appear, they’ll let them know.
But it’s impossible for Donny’s sisters to go back to their normal lives. Their bodies are back in Ballarat but their hearts are still scouring bushland, looking under bridges and knocking on doors in search of their missing brother.
This heart-wrenching story began on Friday, August 31.
Donny had been waiting all day for his big sister Rachael to arrive at their mother’s Linton home so they could leave for his first-ever camping trip.
After spending some time wishing their mother a happy birthday (despite Donny’s excitement to go camping), the pair set off and arrived at an Echuca campsite at 11pm.
There they met four friends from Ballarat and began setting up camp. But after a couple of drinks, something wasn’t quite right with the 16 year old.
“He started acting all paranoid ... he was having these freak-out attacks,” Rachael said.
“I don’t know what it was – I reckon it was the alcohol causing it.”
Rachael said Donny began thinking others at the campsite were talking about him and wanted to hurt him.
“We were all sitting on chairs around the campfire and just looking at him, you could tell there was something wrong with him,” she said.
The next morning Donny was back to his normal, happy self and enjoyed the first day of spring on the river.
He was paddling in an inflatable dinghy, went fishing, collected firewood and kicked the footy around in perfect sunshine.
That night, he began drinking again.
“It didn’t take very long until he started acting the same way, having these freak-outs every 10 minutes,” Rachael said.
“All he wanted was more to drink. We knew that wasn’t the answer but he just insisted ... it was the only way to calm him down.”
Rachael said that from 8.15pm, Donny began urging her to take him back to Ballarat.
“He kept on saying to me ‘pack up the stuff, we’ve got to get out of here’,” she said.
“I told him I had been drinking and couldn’t drive home, but he just wouldn’t take no for an answer – he was really paranoid.”
That was when Donny took off. He sprinted down a dirt track in the direction of the Murray Valley Highway, but a friend gave chase.
That friends, one of his campmates, followed Donny for 100 metres in the dark before the 16-year-old turned right into thick bushland towards a nearby billabong.
After waiting a little while to see if her brother would return, Rachael called triple-zero and a massive search was launched.
By 6am on that Sunday, police called in helicopters, sniffer dogs and scuba divers in a huge co-ordinated search with the SES, Donny’s family and concerned locals, but no trace of the teenager was found.
Since then, Donny’s family have been knocking on doors, checking abandoned sheds and houses and even searching billabongs and lagoons for their brother’s body.
The police search is continuing but has been drastically scaled back.
The one thing that has remained constant is the tremendous flood of support for the family and assistance from strangers, both in Ballarat and up at the river.
Echuca’s local newspaper, the Riverine Herald, has been publishing regular updates on the search, which has the whole town wondering: what happened to Donny Govan?
The only clue so far has been a woman’s claim that Donny knocked on her door that Sunday morning.
The elderly woman, who asked not be named, told the Riverine Herald a boy she believes to be Donny emerged from the bush near her Pakenham Street home and told her he was cold and hungry.
She cooked him a hot breakfast and said he stayed for about an hour, before telling her he was heading to Bendigo.
“(He was) one of the nicest young men that I have met for a long, long time,’’ she said. “I said to him before he left, ‘Where are you stopping tonight?’
“He said, ‘Oh, I’ll find somewhere’.
Donny missed the birth of a nephew on Wednesday and his mother, who has already lost a son, is becoming more fearful by the day.
While the disappearance of Donny Govan mystifies Ballarat and Echuca, a family out at Linton is much more than confused. They’re living the worst nightmare of their lives.
Anyone with information on Donny Govan should call triple-zero immediately.