Drew DeVoursney was in his last year at Montreat College in North Carolina, on an academic and soccer scholarship, when the twin towers fell in the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Feeling compelled to serve, he dropped out of Montreat and enlisted in the Marines, ultimately serving two tours in Iraq before returning to the Middle East, in Afghanistan, for two years as a contractor, his mom, Char DeVoursney, told PEOPLE.
“That says something about him,” she said of her son, a 6-foot-6-inch 36-year-old she always called her “adventure boy.”
“He wasn’t going to stay still somewhere. … He just kept pursuing the next thing he wanted to do, and he was really good at it.”
Drew’s post-military life took him across the country and outside of it, Char said. He worked stints in Charleston, South Carolina, and on solar panel farms in California — with a period in between learning how to work on oil rigs in Texas — before heading to Belize in December. He had had purchased four acres of land in the Central American country about four years ago and he planned to teach diving.
He lived in Belize’s Corozal District, bordering the southeastern tip of Mexico, Char said.
And that’s where he vanished, until nearly a week later, on Monday afternoon, when his dead body was reportedly found in a local village along with the body of his 52-year-old girlfriend, Francesca Matus.
Police said they were both strangled, according to multiple news outlets.
“You can imagine me worrying about him doing the military thing,” Char told PEOPLE of her son’s disappearance and death. “This was much more worrisome, going through this process of not knowing.”
Drew’s younger brother, David, has since traveled to Belize with Drew’s best friend, Brandon Barfield, to gather his remains and his personal belongings and to seek more answers about what happened to him. (Authorities, who have not returned PEOPLE’s messages seeking comment, have not publicly confirmed a motive or possible suspects.)
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Barfield created a GoFundMe in the wake of Drew’s disappearance. On Tuesday, he wrote about his friend’s killing and what comes next.
“Today is Day 1 because it is the beginning to finding out the truth about what happened to Drew and Francesca,” wrote Barfield, who previously served with Drew in the Marines.
He continued, “It breaks my heart knowing that Drew and I have survived so many near death situations and laughed about it, and now I have to bring his body home.”
Mom: ‘He’s Coming Home in a Way I’ve Always Dreaded’
Char said that Drew was impacted by his experiences in the military. He saw combat and was left with post-traumatic stress disorder as a veteran.
“But that hasn’t slowed him down,” she said Tuesday, referring to Drew in the present-tense less than a day after learning he was dead.
David, two years Drew’s junior, also served in the military, according to Char: He was in the Air Force for 10 years, doing seven tours in the Middle East. He was an aerial gunner and performed search and rescue operations.
She said she’s not quite sure where their military drive came from — though she jokes that they loved their G.I Joe action figures as kids.
Having two sons serve overseas “was very, very stressful,” Char said. But what’s happened to Drew is something else.
“[I’ve] been through so much with both of them doing so many tours in Afghanistan and Iraq — and then going through all that, he [Drew] always stayed in touch,” she said. “So when he wasn’t in touch with this happening, we knew something was really weird.”
In tears, Char told the Toronto Star on Tuesday that she had long feared the news that Drew was dead.
“But that was when he was in Iraq and Afghanistan,” she said. “Now he’s coming home in a way I’ve always dreaded.”