Could arrest in 23-year-old murder help other missing persons cases?

3,500 Jacksonville missing persons annually; 10 or fewer involve foul play

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Tuesday's arrest of Ronnie Hyde, accused of killing a teenage boy reported missing 23 years ago, has people asking about other unsolved homicide cases, including the disappearance of two Jacksonville middle-school students 12 years ago.

Mark Degner, 12, and Bryan Hayes, 13 were last seen leaving Paxon Middle School together on Feb. 10, 2005. That's about 8 miles away from Hyde's property in the Talleyrand neighborhood that the FBI spent the last two days searching in their investigation into the death of 16-year-old Fred Laster, a Nassau County boy who went missing in Jacksonville.

Authorities have not connected Hyde to that case or other cold cases of missing young people in Jacksonville or elsewhere, but the FBI did ask for people to come forward if they had any suspicious or inappropriate contact with Hyde over the years.

WATCH: Could arrest in 23-year-old murder help other missing persons cases?

Members of Degner's family said Wednesday that had not heard from the FBI and were in tears when they learned about Laster's death.

Degner's mother, Linda Alligood, said she hopes, like Lasters' family, she will get closure soon as well.

"Hoping they come home. Hoping they just find them well and alive and they just didn't want to come home," Alligood said.

The investigation into what happened to Degner and Hayes has baffled Jacksonville police since the beginning. Degner's aunt, Pamela Cantrell, said she is worried that the location of the school and Hyde’s property are in close proximity. 

"(My) first reaction was he's 8 miles away from where my nephew was abducted, or ran away, or whatever happened to him -- and his home was right there," Cantrell said. "Then to find out that not long before that he took another child's life, and the only thing they found was the child's torso."

Alligood said Hyde's arrest has made her worry even more.

"You panic. You get scared," she said. 

Police said there's no known connection between the two cases, but they're not ruling anything out.

"You can't just throw a blanket, say, because this happened, you have to know that what you're looking at has a legitimate potential connection," Jacksonville Undersheriff Pat Ivey said. "When the appropriate time comes, and based on the other agencies involved in the investigation concerning Mr. Hyde, we would take the opportunity review and see if we have anything we need to take a look closer historically or (at) current (cases)."

According to its website, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office average over 3,500 missing persons calls each year, and 65 percent of them involve people 13-17 years old. Of the 1,200 of those cases investigated by detectives, fewer than 10 involve foul play.

Ryan Backmann, who started the website Projected Cold case, believes that over the years there are more than 1,300  unsolved murders in Jacksonville, including his father’s death. He said anytime a case like the Laster case is solved, it actually helps other families still waiting for answers.

"I honestly do think it offers hope to a lot of families of unsolved murders," Backmann said.

Cantrell shared a message for other families who have missing children.

"Never give up hope. Ever. Never give up hope they will be found. Detective work, DNA has come so far. Think about it. A 23-year-old case came to light from DNA, so the criminal is going to leave something," she said. 

About the Authors:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.