JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Bayard crime scene where it is believed remains of missing toddler, Lonzie Barton, were found has been cleared Friday, according to authorities.
Authorities said remains in Bayard appear to be that of Lonzie Barton, and the suspect in his disappearance, Ruben Ebron, led them to the body last Sunday night.
Gary Morrison, owner of the Bayard property said he learned about the discovery on the news and he received several phone calls about it.
“I just can’t believe it happened. It just totally blew my mind that something like this would take place here,” Morrison said. “We had a big, dead dog laying down there and that probably was the smell, because you could come out here and smell something, but then you looked over there and saw the dead dog and didn’t pay any attention to it.”
Morrison said the smell could have been that of the remains, but he doesn’t not know. He said there have been several people dumping trash on the property for years.
“I came out here to check, there was no trash. There's been several people dumping out here. That's the main thing I was checking on, the dumping,” Morrison said. “For years people come down and dump trash and drive off. There's been lawn maintenance people that come down here and dump all their trash also.”
Many are wondering how long the investigation will take, when the remains will be identified and if the cause of death will be revealed.
Five days following the discovery, the property where the remains were found are still taped off. Police have guarded the scene 24/7 and tons of detectives and Crime Scene Units have been seen coming and going.
Forensic Analyst Michael Knox said that could last for several more days, if not weeks and this case is going to take some patience.
“It could be a while,” Knox said. “These are some of the most personnel-intensive types of investigations that law-enforcement can do.”
Knox spent 15 years with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office – half as a crime scene investigator. Now he's a private forensic consultant. Knox said detectives are looking for any evidence possible; that's why they're taking so long at the scene where they found the remains.
“The search itself is extremely time-consuming because it's very tedious,” Knox said. “That is one of the few crime scenes where I need as many hands as possible because there is just so much area to cover.”
According to Knox, officials most likely are using metal detectors and sifting through the soil for more evidence.
“The last thing the sheriff's office wants to be is responsible for what makes or breaks the case,” Knox explained.
At the same time, the medical examiner is doing an autopsy on the remains trying to positively identify them and determine the cause of death. Knox said they may be using DNA and looking at the bones for clues.
“For example if somebody is strangled, you have a bone in your throat and it can be broken due to strangulation,” Knox said.
Lonzie Barton was reported missing in July and his remains weren't found until this week. That makes it harder for investigators.
Knox said given the timeframe a significant amount of decay could be expected.
“Because we have had very warm weather all the way through the month of December, so I would expect there would be a significant amount,” Knox said.
Still, Knox says the best of the best are working to solve the case and he's confident they will get justice for the toddler.
“You have considerable amount of experience here. Especially with Chief Hackney leading the investigation,” Knox said. “This is a man who has held every single rank within the homicide unit that there is to hold.”
A lot of people are hoping murder charges come from the investigation. Knox said that's very possible. But to remember detectives and prosecutors now have time to develop their case, especially since Ruben Ebron waived his right to a speedy trial.
With this much time passing, Knox said it could be hard to get an exact cause of death.
However Knox explained the experts will be looking for broken bones, they can look for tiny fractures in the skull, they can look for chemicals or drugs in the body, and even potentially injuries to the brain.
Mother at vigil: “I couldn't imagine if I lost one of my babies.”
Hundreds of people celebrated the life of Lonzie Barton Thursday night, just yards away from where police believe they found his remains earlier this week.
As investigators with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office continue to collect evidence from the area where missing toddler Lonzie Barton's remains were found, preparations continued Thursday for a memorial vigil in Lonzie's honor.
The vigil was held at the Julington Baptist Church on Snyder Street in Bayard. Many of the people who attended tonight's service included some of those who searched for Lonzie and others whose lives have been affected by crime.
Just moments before the vigil began, parents and children gathered to pay their respects at a roadside memorial, many hoping they would now have closure.
“I mean it’s just so sad,” said Brandy Smith, a mother in attendance. “I couldn't imagine if I lost one of my babies.”
Rachel Cook helped with the search. Cook spoke about a sign someone had left at the memorial sight that stated, ‘I wish I looked harder.’
“It makes you wonder did I missed this or how close we were, people driving by every day and you just had no idea how close it was,” Cook said.
Inside the vigil no one could think about the ‘what-ifs,’ only appreciation for prayers that had finally been answered.
Pastor Nathaniel McClain Julington Baptist Church helped preside over the vigil services.
“There was a brightness in his eyes. When he wore those little cowboy boots I could just only imagine that he was dreaming of one day when he’d be able to fill them,” McClain said.
But that will never happen and Thursday night people who have also been a victim of losing a child to a terrible tragedy came forward with a message for the Barton family.
Diena Thompson, mother of 7-year-old Somer Thompson, who was raped and murdered nearly four years ago knows this loss all too well.
“For the family who loved and cared for Lonzie, my heart and my soul and every bit of condolence that I could ever offer here for the family that loved and cared for him,” Thompson said.
Ann Dugger, executive director of the Justice Coalition has been extremely active in the search for the missing toddler.
“When it's all done and said, little Lonzie he is still going to have a voice and it's going to be loud and it's going to be clear and we're going to make sure of that,” Dugger said.
Investigators were out at the scene for the fourth day Thursday, gathering evidence.
Organizers were expecting the memorial, which was coordinated by the church and the Justice Coalition, to be a huge event, potentially with hundreds of people at the church, all gathering as part of the healing process.
“He has just been in my heart,” Alisha Charles said. “Every morning I prayed for this boy that they find him.”
“It is just hard to believe that somebody could do that to an innocent baby,” Joy Scott said.
The vigil started at 6 p.m. and was open to the public. Attendees arrived as early as 5 p.m. to sign a card for Lonzie.
Children from throughout the community performed and served as ushers and greeters at the event.
Chief Tom Hackney and members of his investigative team will be in attendance.
Everyone was asked to bring a long-stem flower to build a bouquet in Lonzie’s honor. The bouquet will remain at Julington Baptist Church for Sunday morning services.
Dugger said the memorial is all about giving the community a place to come and mourn, as well as to honor the boy's life.
A makeshift memorial continued to grow Thursday across the street from the church, just up the road from where the remains were discovered. People continued to come by with cards, balloons, flowers and stuffed animals, to pay respect to Lonzie.
The memorial has been a place for strangers to come together to mourn.