JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The hundreds of law enforcement officers and volunteers who assisted in the search for toddler Lonzie Barton will be recognized by the Jacksonville City Council Tuesday night.
Councilman Scott Wilson and the other council members will present a framed resolution to commend the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and the Jacksonville Fire Rescue Department. The resolution will also thank Northeast Florida law enforcement officers, military members, State Attorney's Office and volunteers who devoted countless hours to the investigation of Lonzie's disappearance.
"We got water, supplies, food. At one point, we had 300 searchers that we had working in that area in the community support of that effort so we can't thank the community enough," Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said Tuesday.
The toddler was reported missing last July 24 by Ruben Ebron, who told police that his car had been stolen with the 21-month-old inside, which prompted a Florida Amber Alert to be issued.
Law enforcement officers immediately began searching for the toddler and within weeks, they were joined by countless volunteers. Members of the Northeast Florida Search and Recovery group searched a creek off San Jose Boulevard near Cogna Street. Other groups gathered at the Burger King of Philips Highway near the Avenues Mall to search.
Williams said he was in awe at the amount of community support the Sheriff's Office received during the case.
"The piece I take away from this one is the outpouring of support from the community. I don't know that I've ever seen that to that level and it touched everyone in the agency. Every law enforcement officer involved was really touched by that outpour of support. So we can't thank the community enough," Williams said.
Sheriff's Office Director of Investigations Tom Hackney, who had been spearheading the search for the toddler, said the entire case changed the night of Jan. 10. Ebron led a convoy of investigators to the property in Jacksonville's Bayard neighborhood on the Southside, where he said he disposed of Lonzie's remains, according to the Sheriff's Office.
"The biggest lesson is never stop, never quit, never stop looking and never stop working for answers," Hackney said at Tuesday's City Council meeting.
Later, Ebron admitted that he was having sex with Lonna Barton, the toddler's mother, while Lonzie drowned in a bathtub.
Ebron is serving a 20-year sentence after pleading guilty to aggravated manslaughter in the child's death, along with concurrent sentences for child neglect, lying to police and tampering with evidence.
Barton pleaded guilty in January to charges of child neglect and lying to police. She is serving 5 years in prison.
"This whole case has touched this community's hearts and to have this council recognize the efforts of the men and women, of not only the Sheriff's Office and the Fire Department, but the military and others who stepped up, it's a nice wrap up for this tragic situation for this little boy. And it continues to shed light on the need for cases like this to be worked until there's a resolution," Hackney said.