Police: Lonzie has right not to be 'thrown out as garbage'
200 officers search bodies of water, woods off Philips Highway by I-295
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Five days into the search for 21-month-old Lonzie Barton, the man directing the search said investigators will continue to search until there are "no more questions without answers."
Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Chief of Investigations Tom Hackney said he remains frustrated, convinced that the William Ruben Ebron Jr., the man who was caretaker for the boy when he disappeared Thursday night or Friday morning, is lying to police in what Hackney did not deny is now a homicide investigation.
"Ruben Ebron has the facts that we need. If he would step forward and do the right thing ... that will begin justice for a 21-month-old that we don't know the location of right now," Hackney said.
Hackney said Ebron has the right to protect himself, and he won't "try him in the media or jeopardize the case against him," but added, "I'm worried more about Lonzie's rights and where he is. He has the right to not be left and thrown out as garbage."
The toddler disappeared late Thursday night or early Friday morning while Ebron was watching him and his 5-year-old sister while the children's mother was at work. Ebron, who was arrested Friday night on child neglect charges, is now considered a suspect in Lonzie's disappearance.
Monday morning, police moved their command center for the search from Wolfson High School on Powers Avenue to Kings Trail Elementary School on Old Kings Road South. The new command center is less than a mile from the Ravenwood Apartments, where the search for Lonzie began after Ebron called in an apparently false report of his car being stolen with Lonzie inside. The car was found empty a few blocks away and investigators later said they did not believe Ebron's story about the theft.
After searching all weekend, police resumed the search for Lonzie at 4 a.m. Monday, focusing at an area near the Avenues Mall on the Southside. Officials with JSO, Florida Fish and Wildlife and the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department have continued to show up to an area at the dead end of Avenues Walk Boulevard, just north of Interstate 295 off Philips Highway.
There appear to be eight ponds in the area and a few large bodies of water and smaller ponds. Officers have been taking boats into many of the ponds, as well as flying helicopters above to see if they see any sign of the little boy.
Divers have been searching ponds throughout the Southside area. News4Jax wanted to see what it was like down there when divers are under the murky waters, so we got a GoPro and decided to see exactly what it looked like (watch video to left to see). We were only able to put the camera a few inches under the surface of the water and found a lot of algae and sludge. For divers going much deeper, it's likely even harder to see what's in front of them.
"As we search these retention ponds and we check them off the list, it is good in the fact that I know where he is not," Hackney said. "And we are working through a list of where he is not. That is going to point us to where he could be."
Many officers were in the area Monday, along with bloodhounds, a helicopter and ATVs. Investigators stumbled across adult human bones during their search, but said the remains are not related to Lonzie's case.
With each passing day, Hackney speaks more of recovering a body and less of finding Lonzie alive.
"Time slips and our chances of finding Lonzie slips, as well," Hackney said Sunday night. "We want a positive resolution. Nevertheless, we want a resolution. (His mother) deserves answers and Lonzie deserves justice for what may have happened to him."
On Monday, the number of searchers swelled to nearly 200 people from 16 local, state and federal agencies. Police, K-9 and dive teams are searching bodies of water, wooded areas and the Southern Oaks Mobile Home Park near Philips Highway and I-295, which is where Ebron used to live.
A local drone company also came out Sunday to offer its resources and help with the search. The owner of the company said he hopes that the drones can help police and even give the public a better idea of the areas detectives are searching.
"I have a 7-year-old, and I would hate for anything like that to happen to me," Mark Nguyen said. "For anyone who has a child, to cover as much ground as possible in a short amount of time is probably the most important thing."
Ebron, 32, initially told investigators that Lonzie was taken, along with his car, about 2 a.m. Friday from outside the apartment they shared with the boy's mother.
The car was found only blocks away with the keys still inside within 20 minutes of Ebron's 911 call. Hackney said Ebron was inside the apartment doing cocaine at the time that he said Lonzie was abducted.
An Amber Alert remains in effect for Lonzie, who has blond hair, blue eyes, weighs 20 pounds and is about 2½ feet tall. He was wearing only a diaper when he was last seen.
Hackney said in addition to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, Jacksonville Fire and Rescue, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the State Attorney's Office, the Alachua, Baker, Clay, Nassau and St. Johns county sheriff's offices, the FBI and Florida Fish and Wildlife, the Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach, Orange Park, Miami-Dade, and Miramar and Duval County School Board police are assisting in the search for Lonzie.
Eleven volunteers with Texas Equusearch, a mounted search-and-recovery team, arrived Monday to help.
"The officers out there now are very tired. They're exhausted, but this is involving a child. They're pushing through it," News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said. "They don't mind. They're working overtime."
"They have all-terrain vehicles, air units, mounted patrol. You know, JSO lost their mounted patrol years ago and they are trained in doing searches for elderly, for kids and sometimes people with specials needs," Smith said. "So, they bring in a lot of training, a lot of background in finding missing persons."
On Saturday, Ebron appeared in court and was ordered held on $100,000 bond. If released, he must wear a GPS monitor and comply with several restrictions.
The State Attorney's Office issued a statement Monday on Lonzie's case:
"State Attorney Angela Corey, the SAO's two Homicide Directors, and two experienced prosecutors assigned to this case have been working with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office around the clock since Friday to find Lonzie Barton. The SAO staffed this case with JSO for more than four hours Sunday night. The SAO staffed this case once again for several hours this morning. Our goal is to find this innocent child and bring him home."
Lonzie's mother, who lived with Ebron at the Old Kings Road apartment, and his father, who lives in Baker County, are cooperating with police and investigators don't believe either had anything to do with Lonzie's disappearance, Hackney said.
Lonzie's older sister, who was also in Ebron's care Thursday night and Friday morning, has been interviewed several times.
"She's as helpful as a 5-year-old can be. She's with her mom. She's where Lonzie should be," Hackney said.
Hackney said police have received more than 125 tips from the public, and they are following every lead, hoping that one of them will lead them to the missing boy.
"If there's a puddle, we're in it," Hackney said. "And if you see what our efforts are, we're in those puddles, we're underneath those trees, we're searching."
Anyone with information about Lonzie's whereabouts or anyone who saw Ebron between 8 p.m. Thursday and 2 a.m. Friday is asked to call the Sheriff's Office at 904-630-0500 or 911. Callers can remain anonymous and be eligible for a reward of up to $3,000 by calling Crime Stoppers at 866-845-TIPS.
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