JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Police announced late Monday the Amber Alert for 21-month-old Lonzie Barton is canceled and they are 100 percent sure the toddler who disappeared 10 days ago disappeared at the hands of the mother's boyfriend.
"I'm cancelling the Amber Alert and not working this as an abduction anymore," Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Chief of Investigations Tom Hackney said. "We are working this as a murder case. You need to know that. Ruben Ebron needs to know that."
This comes after the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office obtained surveillance video that it said shows Ebron abandoning the car he claimed was stolen with Lonzie Barton inside and running away minutes before he called 911 to report it stolen and the toddler taken.
"I'm not much of a poker player. I know that you are not supposed to show your hand, but today I'm about to do just that. I have reasons to do that," Hackney said, adding a comment directed to the suspect: "Ruben, you are building this house of cards with a losing hand. I'm stacking the deck with the truth."
"He talked about a house of cards, Hackney's playing cards too, and he just showed him that he does have an ace in his hand. That was the ace that he showed Ebron, letting him know, ‘I do have a lot more and we're coming after you,'" News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said.34512246
Hackney appealed again for Ebron or those who have information about what happened to Lonzie to come forward with any possible explanation other than that the car theft story was made up to cover up the child's death.
"His narrative is crumbling, We have a surprising amount of physical evidence."
Police said the point of releasing the video that contradicts Ebron's story was to show it to his family and friends, essentially people who have access to Ebron because police don't, since he invoked his right to remain silent.
Investigators expect family to alert Ebron that police have this video of him just a few houses away from where the car was dumped. They hope this will force Ebron to fess up to the real story about what happened with Lonzie.
Jimmy Barton is Lonzie's great uncle who said in his opinion, this video is just more evidence that police are right to suspect Ebron of murder.
"I can tell you right now anybody in their right mind knows he did something to that boy, the baby. And his poor mama and daddy is in denial," Jimmie Barton said. "Ebron's family is in denial, they think he didn't do it. And for them to think he didn't do it, who else could have done it?"
Meanwhile, volunteers organized efforts Monday to continue to search for the missing toddler now that the police have scaled back their search for the boy who disappeared July 24.
For 10 days, investigators from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office teamed with personnel from agencies across the state and region in a full-scale search for Lonzie. As many as 200 investigators were out scouring the Southside and Northside last week, but those efforts were scaled back to about 70 investigators over the weekend.
After the first several days, Hackney said the chance of finding Lonzie alive was "slipping away" and began talking in terms of recovering a body and building a murder case against Ebron, who initially reported Lonzie was abducted in a car theft at the Ravenwood Apartments on Old Kings Road.
Police later said they believe Ebron's story was a lie and that he knows where the toddler was left.
Hackney said police plan to check new areas as evidence and tips provide additional information about where Lonzie's body might be.
Volunteers are hoping to help in that effort by searching and passing out fliers. They've started a Facebook group called "Volunteers for Lonzie Barton."
Maggie Smith went door-to-door at Southside businesses Monday. She said she watched the story on the news and saw it on social media and wanted to help. She said she's cried a lot over the case, because it hits close to home.
"I have a grandbaby, and she's 1½," she said. "And when I look at her, I think of the things that Lonzie won't be able to do, until he's found. And he deserves to be laid to rest. If he's not with us any longer, he deserves to be laid to rest."
Smith printed fliers on her personal printer until she ran out of ink. She then went to a local copy shop that donated some copies of the flier she made. She spent the morning and afternoon handing out as many as she could to people in the area.
"I think someone in the community, someone in Jacksonville needs to be out here passing out fliers," Smith said. "And if not someone else, then me. It's all I can do. I want to do something and this is the closest thing I could come to helping."
Smith and other members of the Facebook group are asking other local companies to donate their printing services so they can pass out more fliers. They're also asking for more "boots on the ground," or volunteers, who can pass out fliers and search the areas where Lonzie may be.
Smith said her efforts were well-received. As she passed out fliers, people thanked her for spreading the word and vowed to do what they can to keep the information out in the public. Several asked for extra copies of fliers to post and give out to friends and family.
Another woman was out searching and passing out fliers in the Northside area. And a couple said they took their personal boat out on the waterways on the Northside to look for a sign of Lonzie.
JSO said investigators are still hoping someone will come forward with information to help them solve the case and recover Lonzie's body. Crime Stoppers is offering a $12,800 reward for a tip that leads to the child's remains.
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