Suspect arrested in missing student case

Times Staff Writer

The prime suspect in the disappearance of a 19-year-old Orange County woman has been arrested in Jacksonville, Fla., authorities said.

Since his arrest Tuesday, John Steven Burgess, a convicted sex offender, has stonewalled Orange County sheriff’s homicide detectives who flew there to interview him. Authorities are no closer to finding Donna Haghighat Jou or tying Burgess to her disappearance than they were before his capture, authorities say.

“He’s not speaking, and they cannot force him to speak,” said Jou’s father, Reza. “They said that’s his constitutional right, which I don’t understand.”

Police found Burgess by chance when an officer patrolling a Motel 6 parking lot saw him suspiciously drop a bag that contained crack cocaine, authorities said.


Burgess told the officer that he did not use cocaine and was arrested peacefully. The arresting officer learned through a warrant search that Burgess, 35, was wanted for questioning in Jou’s disappearance.

Burgess told police he was staying at his mother’s house in nearby Orange Park. Family members at the house refused to speak with Orange County homicide detectives.

He is being held on cocaine possession charges, and a California arrest warrant alleges he failed to register as a sex offender with a correct address.

Jou was last seen June 23, when she went to a party with Burgess after the two apparently met on, authorities said. Jou is a student at San Diego State University and lives with her mother in Rancho Santa Margarita.


Her mother received a text message the next day from Jou’s phone, saying that her cellphone battery was dying but that she would be home soon. Authorities suspect the message wasn’t sent by Jou.

On July 8, the license plate of a pickup truck and a motorcycle helmet belonging to Burgess were found along with rope, rubber gloves and a scrub brush near railroad tracks in West Los Angeles, about 1 1/2 miles from his house, authorities said.

Burgess was convicted of three counts of battery in 2002 and of performing a lewd act on a child the next year.

Jou disappeared shortly after Burgess allegedly picked her up for a date at her Rancho Santa Margarita home June 23.

Her father, who lives in Houston and works for NASA, said the family still had hope she would be found.

“Maybe my daughter is alive somewhere,” he said.