http://www.ocala.com/article/20080830/NEWS/808300270/1001/News01&title=Trenton_Ducket_missing_now_for_2_yearsTrenton Ducket missing now for 2 years
By Suevon Lee
Published: Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 6:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 7:09 a.m.
BUSHNELL — Joshua Duckett's life has seen some gradual changes in the past year. He has a new girlfriend. He has traded in his truck. He's changed jobs twice. But one thing hasn't changed for the 23-year-old: His toddler son, Trenton, who vanished two years ago, is still missing.
With each new tip that comes in, "It's like a roller coaster ride," Duckett said. "One minute you feel this way, another minute this way."
Wednesday marked the two-year anniversary of Trenton's disappearance, and Duckett's family and friends commemorated the occasion by holding a candlelight prayer vigil by the fountain in downtown Leesburg.
Trenton, a happy-go-lucky child who loved peaches and riding in his father's mud trucks, was 2 when his mother, Melinda, reported him missing the evening of Aug. 27, 2006. The Lake-Sumter Community College student told police she put Trenton to sleep in his bedroom before settling in to watch a movie with friends in the living room of her Leesburg apartment. When she went to check on him, Trenton was gone, a nearby window screen slit open.
Melinda Duckett — who was involved in a bitter custody dispute over Trenton with her ex-husband — claimed that her son had been snatched from his bed and that the last time she had seen him was 7 p.m. that evening.
From the beginning, questions swirled around the 21-year-old. She refused to take a polygraph test, upon the advice of her lawyer. She was evasive about where she was earlier in the day, although cell-phone records placed her near Paddock Mall in Ocala around noon. Witnesses reported seeing Melinda and her son in the Ocala National Forest that afternoon, although a six-day search in Farles Lake turned up no clues.
Soon after, Duckett agreed to talk to CNN talk show host Nancy Grace, thinking it could raise visibility in the search for her son. The interview turned confrontational, and the next day, Duckett shot herself to death at her grandparents' home in The Villages. A wrongful death lawsuit filed by her family against Grace and CNN is now moving its way through federal court.
With Melinda Duckett's suicide, authorities found their one door into the mystery of Trenton's disappearance slammed shut just 12 days into their investigation.
To this day, the Leesburg Police Department and Marion County Sheriff's Office — which joined the investigation after it became clear Melinda spent time in Ocala the day Trenton disappeared — disagree on key points. But both identify their prime suspect as the troubled young mother.
An adoptee from South Korea, Melinda married high school sweetheart Joshua Duckett in July 2005, a month after Trenton's first birthday. They divorced a year later, setting off a bitter custody struggle. Both individuals had once been ordered to undergo psychological evaluations and parenting classes following a May 2005 Department of Children and Families report that concluded Trenton suffered from neglect and inadequate supervision.
Between 2005 and 2006, Trenton was passed around from his mother to father to great-grandparents, with no stable home during that time. Melinda, who had been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive personality disorder and depression, eventually won temporary custody of her son after claiming Joshua had sent her threatening e-mails; authorities later learned it was she who had written the messages.
Investigators believe they have a strong case against the mother. "Melinda is still the one and only suspect in the case," said Maj. Steve Rockefeller of the Leesburg police. "Our position is that [trenton] wasn't taken out of the bedroom," he said, without outright stating he believed Trenton dead.
Marion County investigators, on the other hand, say there is no evidence to suggest Trenton was harmed. Since the suicide notes Duckett left behind were written in present tense, Maj. Chris Blair believes he was handed off to someone else.
Joshua Duckett acknowledged that his ex-wife, a criminal justice major who wrote long, introspective blog entries on her MySpace page, was prone to feelings of jealousy, and would often manipulate him using their son. "She knew that if she threatened me with him, that I would do anything that she pretty much wanted me to do," he said.
Nancy Eubank, Melinda's grandmother, believes her granddaughter was unfairly targeted from the beginning. "I think the mother is always condemned without proof. She loved [trenton] very dearly, and he loved her better than anyone else in the world," she said.
Blair said there is no evidence any harm was done to Trenton. "[Melinda] was not a dumb individual," he said. "Had this thing been well planned out, she could have made arrangements," such as a hand-off to contacts in neighboring U.S. towns or even South Korea.
It's a theory Joshua also believes. "[Melinda] would hurt herself, but she wouldn't hurt [trenton]," he said. "I wouldn't put it past her to hand him off to someone else."
Rockefeller said a comb-through of Melinda's computer and phone records does not support such a hand-off theory, but "if Marion County wants to investigate different aspects like that, that's perfectly acceptable."
For Joshua, and other members of Melinda's family, frustration abounds. Despite a consolidated investigation that has brought in the FBI and Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the search for Trenton has cooled.
In the early days of the investigation, Rockefeller said his office was getting upwards of 100 tips per day. Now, new tips have dwindled to a mere 40 over the past year.
Joshua Duckett, who still wears on his lanky frame a "Have you seen me? T-shirt emblazoned with Trenton's face, contends that law enforcement has "slacked off" in recent days. He has considered hiring a private investigator for a "fresh pair of eyes."
"You can't really get much done with law enforcement these days," he said during an interview near the playground of the Kenny Dixon Sports Complex in Bushnell. "They don't give you the feedback."
Melinda's adoptive mother, Beth Eubank, of Lockport, N.Y., also expressed frustration at being "left out of the loop." Eubank had never met Trenton and hadn't seen her daughter since she put her on the plane to Florida to live with her parents-in-law at age 17.
Rockefeller denied withholding information, since there is none to hand out. "We don't have a bunch of new info to work with," he said.
Joshua, who worked as an electrician straight out of high school, is not bothered by the intense public attention of the past two years. He talks about it almost as if it is a fate he must accept. "It's something I have to deal with," he said. "If it does aggravate me, there's nothing I can do about it."
When asked how he feels in the two-year wake of Trenton's disappearance, he replied, "depressed, upset, the same as in the beginning ... you can't really pinpoint the emotions."
He believes his son is still alive and refuses to give up hope, noting "there's children that have been found 10, 11 years later."
"I've been doing this for this long and I'm not gonna give up," he said. "I'm gonna take however long it takes to bring him home."