JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Police appealed to the public Sunday night, asking for help in their search for a missing man and a baby. Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Chief Tom Hackney said police believe the child is dead and the case is being treated as a homicide investigation.
JSO says the mother, Kristen Branch, 26, was pregnant in the Duval County jail in March of 2014. That August she was transported from the jail to UF Health Jacksonville, where she gave birth to a child named Nehemiah. Branch turned the child to his biological father identified as Dwayne Weedon Jr.
Authorities say Weedon was homeless and stayed at the Sulzbacher Center along with the couple's two other children, ages 2 and 4, while Branch was in jail.
Hackney said Weedon was having trouble caring for Nehemiah in August of 2014. Then in October of 2014, Weedon told a case worker at Sulzbacher that he made arrangements with an out-of-town relative to take custody of Nehemiah.
In December of 2014, JSO says Branch finished her sentence at Florida State Prison and learned that Weedon turned Nehemiah over to an out-of-state relative. However, in December of 2015, Branch, along with some of her family members in St. Johns County, began questioning the story.
JSO says through its investigation that it believes the baby was dead in October 2014. Hackney said Weedon was known to frequent the Arlington and Southside area.
The sheriff's office said it wasn't until November 2015, when Branch was released from prison, there were questions about Nehemiah's location. Branch made contact with Weedon and regained custody of two of her children.
She told police she was okay with Weedon's explanation that the child was in good care with family, but she soon called police with concerns about his whereabouts.
“This is a trying case because initially our investigations was leading us to try to help provide answers to the family about the custody of this little boy and it turned tragic as we started to come up with empty answers," JSO Chief Tom Hackney said during a press conference. “I wish there was some hope that he was alive, but truly it doesn’t seem to be the case.”
Authorities released two different photos of Weedon and one of the child. They ask that anyone who has seen Weedon or remembers seeing him with the child in 2014 to call Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS.