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A decade after he disappeared from Brandon, a brother is found

ZEPHYRHILLS — In the 1970s Don Wayne Cavender was an active, high-spirited boy in Poca, W. Va. The baby of his family, he excelled in baseball, helping his high school team to a state championship. He enjoyed the outdoors with his two older brothers.

He married at 18 and had a son, Caleb. But his behavior changed dramatically. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia. His short marriage ended, and he lost contact with his baby. He moved in with his mother, Cathern Irene, the only one who could calm Don during an episode, according to his brother, Terrence Cavender.

Don was in and out of hospitals until his mother died in 1999. Then he found his way to his brother's doorstep in Brandon.

"He was in bad shape when he got here," Terrence said Friday.

Terrence said he tried to help his brother, but he had concerns for his wife and daughter. He moved him out of his house and into a trailer. And then in the summer of 2000, Don disappeared. His brother filed a missing person's report in June with the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office. He thought Don might have set out to walk to West Virginia.

He never saw his brother again.

On Jan. 23, 2010, a hunter found human remains among palmetto bushes about 75 yards east of railroad tracks and about 2 miles south of County Road 54.

Erin Kimmerle, a University of South Florida anthropologist, examined the remains and believed the body had been there between 5 to 20 years. She developed a computer composite of what the man may have looked like. Investigators sought help from the public, but no luck.

They took DNA samples from Terrence and the other brother, Joe, who also lives in Florida. Researchers at the University of North Texas compared them with samples taken from the body that the hunter had discovered. On Aug. 16, they found the match.

On Friday, authorities said the body was Don Cavender, who would have been 44 if he were still alive.

"I was holding out hope he was still alive," Terrence Cavender, 48, said Friday. "The fact they found him in the woods is heartbreaking."

"I was hoping they wouldn't use it to identify the body. I was just hoping he was in a hospital back home somewhere."

Pasco deputies said the cause of death was not determined but foul play is not suspected.

Authorities delayed releasing Don's name because they wanted to notify next of kin. They don't know where Caleb is, said Kevin Doll, spokesman for the Pasco Sheriff's Office. Police in West Virginia have warrants to arrest Caleb, who may be 22, Doll said.

Meanwhile, Terrence said he felt some guilt for moving his brother out of his house all those years ago. He said he had hoped to buy some time to come up with a plan for his brother, but then he was gone.

"That's some of the guilt I have to live with for the rest of my life, but I had to do what I thought was right," Terrence said.

He said he is grateful for the closure of finally knowing what happened to Don.

"After all these years of wondering," he said, "at least we know what happened to him."

A decade after he disappeared from Brandon, a brother is found 08/26/11 [Last modified: Friday, August 26, 2011 11:25pm]
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