A young dad spent his final hours stumbling around bushland with a dislocated shoulder while high on a cocktail of beer, acid and MDMA before he drowned in a river.
Dean Gray, 25, went missing in the early hours of October 16, 2021, after a night out with his mates at a property on the bank of the Namoi River, near Narrabri in northern NSW.
Police, friends and family spent four days searching for him, before his body was uncovered on the riverbank.
His shoulder was dislocated and it was initially believed that he injured himself while trying to swim across the river, which was full with a strong current due to heavy rainfall.
But many questions were left unanswered, including how he vanished when he was meant to be hanging out with his friends, what he was doing in the water, and why no-one reported him missing for hours after he was last seen.
In the months after Dean’s death, his parents Rob and Cherina Grey were going through his phone and found out he had a sexual relationship with his former high school deputy principal, Annabel Doust, in 2013.
Pictured: Dean Gray sitting in the back of a ute, in what he wore the day he went missing
Annabel Doust (pictured) was Dean’s high school deputy principal in 2013, when he was 17
Ms Doust was 50 at the time, while Dean was 17 and in Year 12. Messages showed the relationship ended when her husband found out.
Dean’s shattered parents have spent the last few years trying to make complaints to police about Ms Doust, who was later promoted to principal at a high school in Wee Waa, while grappling with the mysterious way he died.
Now, an affidavit filed in Tamworth Local Court during the inquest into his death, obtained by Daily Mail Australia, sheds light on the situation for the first time.
The affidavit was filed to the court on behalf of Michael*, who was on the boys’ trip with Dean.
Boys’ night out
According to the affidavit, Dean met Michael and another friend, Shane*, at the entrance to the property at about 5pm after work on Friday, October 15 2021, and drove in separate vehicles to a shed with chairs, tables and a fire pit.
The trip was initially reported as a boys camping weekend, but it can now be revealed the group thought they’d be home by 10pm that evening.
‘None of us brought any overnight camping equipment,’ Michael’s affidavit read.
Twelve minutes after they met at the entrance, Dean procured a white Cialis pill bottle which contained tabs of acid. Cialis is used to treat erectile dysfunction.
Dean Gray, pictured with his fiancée Taylor Baxter and their son, vanished in October 2021
Pictured: The Namoi River near Narrabri, where Dean went missing
All three of them took an acid tab and sat around the fire drinking beer. Michael had never taken acid before.
‘Dean and [Shane] proceeded to start sniffing lines from off one of their phones – which I believe was crushed up MDMA,’ Michael said in his statement.
About an hour later, they each took a second tab of acid.
The group was so ill-prepared for the trip they only realised there were no working lights once the sun started setting, so they had to call the owner of the property to ask if there was a generator to power the Christmas bulbs in the shed.
Two other friends eventually brought a generator down. They tried to siphon fuel for the generator from one of their cars, but that didn’t work so the owner arrived with a jerry can and powered the site for them.
Alone in the bush
Once the site was properly lit and the owner left, the five young men were at the campsite alone.
Dean, Michael and Shane then started sniffing more MDMA.
‘Between 9:30 and 10pm, [Shane] presented a liquid acid dropper which he offered to Dean and me, informing us that it was acid just like the two tabs we had earlier,’ Michael said in his statement.
Michael said he initially refused to take it because he knew it would be strong.
He said: ‘Dean also hesitated and said “are you sure?”, to which [Shane] replied “it’s just acid”.’
Dean Gray, 25, (pictured with his mother Cherina) drowned on a boys trip in October 2021
‘Dean tilted his head back, opened his mouth and put out his tongue but then said, “I have kids, you know”.’
Dean and Shane put one drop of of the liquid acid onto each other’s tongues, before Michael changed his mind and asked Shane to give him a drop as well.
About 45 minutes later, all five friends were sitting together on a couch when Michael started hallucinating, became frantic and moved away from the group.
Dean and Shane followed him and tried to help.
‘Dean tried to calm me down and told me that I was “tripping out”,’ Michael’s statement read.
‘I became very frantic and started to panic, Dean and [Shane] attempted to restrain me to stop me from running away, but I broke free. Dean was calling out after me by my name to come back.’
He ran away and ended up confused and in a paddock. He didn’t see Dean again until 7am the following morning.
Dean Gray was a fitness fanatic and father-of-two. His fiancée found out she was pregnant with their second child two days before he died
By the time Michael stumbled back to the campsite, he was severely affected by acid.
He recalled trying to get in his car to drive home, but Shane jumped into the car and took his keys to stop him from leaving.
The two friends who arrived later were still sitting around the the fire and had barely moved. Michael later found out they had also consumed liquid acid.
Shane was not wearing shoes and had stripped to his underwear and was ‘moving around the camp erratically, at times laying down on the ground and getting up,’ Michael said.
Michael said his memories at that particular point in time were confused and unclear, but he distinctly remembered Dean’s ute rolling into the river.
‘I recall waking up some time later in my ute to [a friend] opening the door and asking “where’s Dean?”.’
He then recalled seeing the headlights of a car leaving, and was later told it was the two friends who had arrived later in the evening.
Dean and Taylor (pictured together) got engaged in about 2018, before they had their son Bostin
Michael was in his ute right before sunrise when Shane opened the door wearing a flannelette shirt, underwear and no shoes.
‘He asked if I was okay to which I responded “yes”. Confused, I asked [Shane] what had happened that night, and he said “I really don’t know”.
Shane said he didn’t have his phone and asked Michael for the password to Dean’s phone.
Dean Gray is pictured with his mother, Cherina Gray, in 2013 – the year he started having sex with his teacher
He tried to call one of the two friends who had been with them that night, not realising they left the campsite, but no one answered.
Michael said: ‘At that time it didn’t register to me at all the gravity of the situation.
‘At that point I thought Dean may have left in the vehicle I saw driving away that night. I was dehydrated, physically exhausted and felt as if I could barely move from the driver’s side seat of my car.
‘I told [Shane] that I did recall a car driving off in the early hours of the morning. And I told [Shane] that Dean could have been in that car.’
He then saw Shane wandering around the car with Dean’s phone, and went back to sleep. When he woke up, Shane was climbing into the passenger seat.
‘I said we should go for a drive and start looking for Dean,’ Michael’s statement said.
‘I started the ute, [Shane] just said “give me a second” and we both passed out asleep with the car running and the heater on.’
They woke up just before 7am, switched the ute off, and got out of the car.
‘What happened to my ute? F**k’
Upon getting out of the car, Michael said he caught a glimpse of Dean, ‘moving as if he had just got up off the ground’.
‘Then I looked straight across at Dean and he was staggering along with his head held down. He was supporting his left arm with the other hand. He wasn’t wearing his jacket.’
Shane yelled out across the river, ‘Deano! Where have you been? I’ve been looking for you for hours!’
Dean replied: ‘I think I just dislocated my shoulder.’
He then saw his ute in the water and said: ‘What happened to my ute… F**k!’
Pictured: Dean Gray with his fiancee Taylor and their son, Bostin, before he died in 2021
Michael recalled Shane saying something to Dean, along the lines of, ‘do not try and cross the river’.
Dean decided to walk upstream to find a shallow place to cross, while Michael and Shane got back in the car and tried to drive further up the road to find somewhere to cross.
‘After going a distance on the main road, we decided that it wasn’t going to work and we turned around and headed back to the camp site,’ Michael said.
‘We got back to the camp site and started calling out to Dean and had no response.
‘We then started to drive upstream from the campsite along the river bank, stopping, switching the ute off and yelling out to see if we could hear a response.’
Michael decided to drive further upstream and wait to see if Dean arrived, while Shane kept looking around where he was last seen and asked two others to go out to the property to help the search.
‘At about 9.15am, I told Shane via text message that we should contact emergency services soon, as it had been an hour and a half since we had last seen Dean and knew that he was injured,’ Michael said.
He met Shane and two others and they waited at the property until police arrived.
Police launched a large-scale land, air and water search of the surrounding areas, along with the help of a number of friends who raced to the town to help.
On the second day of the search, Dean’s fiancée Taylor Baxter wrote on Facebook: ‘I’m praying that today’s the day. My heart can’t take anymore – Dean, I need you to come home. I need you to come and do life with me.’
She found out she was pregnant with their second child just two days before the accident.
His body was found on October 20, three days after he was last seen alive.
Dean’s parents, Rob and Cherina Gray, have been at war with Ms Baxter’s family since the tragedy – trying to slap each other with restraining orders, arguing over his estate, demanding paternity tests, and publicly slamming one another online.
The family division appears to have started just after Dean’s death in 2021 after a friend set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to help Ms Baxter with ‘funeral arrangements and other financial issues’.
There were disagreements over who should pay for the funeral, headstone, and over his estate.
Ms Baxter then tried to take out an apprehended violence order against Ms Gray in January this year, but it was dismissed.
In March, Ms Gray tried to take out an apprehended violence order against Ms Baxter’s mother Kelita – but that was dismissed.
Ms Gray and Kelita Baxter have signed undertakings and agreed not to harass each other.
The situation left both sides of the family in distress, and communicating through police and lawyers.
Ms Gray said she has not been allowed to see her grandchildren in about a year, and says she wants proof that Dean is the youngest boy’s father.
Ms Baxter firmly rejected the notion that her one-year-old has a different father.
Former school principal Annabel Doust (pictured in 2017) was dismissed by the NSW Department of Education over a relationship with a student in 2013
Dean’s secret relationship
While going through his phone after his death, Dean’s parents found messages between him and his former high school deputy principal, Annabel Doust, from 2013.
The texts revealed the pair were in a sexual relationship when Dean was 17 and in Year 12, and Ms Doust was 50.
His heartbroken family fought for action to be taken against the teacher, but police said the complaint could not progress further because the victim was dead.
Ms Doust was eventually promoted to principal of Wee Waa high school, but she was sacked by the NSW Department of Education in September this year following an investigation into her relationship with Dean.
She has also been placed on a not-to-be-employed list by the department.
Ms Doust has not been charged with any criminal offences by NSW Police.
*Names have been changed.