JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The morning 21-month-old Lonzie Barton was reported missing, the mother's co-worker gave her a ride back to the Old Kings Road apartment, which was crawling with police in the early hours of what would be come a massive search.
"I had a bad feeling as soon as (Lonna Barton) got in my car, which is really weird for me," Kristina Rivera said.
That co-worker spoke out for first time Wednesday, the day after Lonna Barton was arrested on charges of child neglect and lying to police. Rivera said it's time for everyone to know the truth about what happened in those first hours after Lonzie's disappearance.
"(Barton) told me that her boyfriend had called and he didn't want to wake up the kids (and) to see if she could find a ride," Rivera said. "So when she asked and she gave me that scenario, I thought I was doing a good deed. So I gave her the ride."
Rivera said at that time, about 2:30 a.m. July 24, she had no idea anything was wrong. She said Lonna Barton was texting on the drive home. then she asked to be dropped off at a different apartment complex.
"She was like, 'Can you do me one more favor?' And I am, 'Like what?' And she says, 'Can you take me to this girl's house because she owes me some money? So I need to go over there and get it.' And I am like, 'Fine. I just want you out of my car at this point.' I didn't even have a good feeling then."
Rivera said she sat in her car while Lonna got out.
"As I look in my rear-view mirror, I see a JSO officer just drive by really slow," Rivera said. "And then he shined the light, and he reversed. And I am like, 'What is going on?' So he pulls up and he said, 'Have you seen an orange Honda Civic in the area?' And I said, 'No. What is going on?' And he says, 'Well there has been a child that has been abducted.' And right around that time Lonna had come out. And I am telling her there is a kid missing. And she is like, 'Oh my God. What happened?'"
That's when the officer questioned Lonna Barton.
Rivera explains what happened: "The officer says, 'Well, this might be your kid. Are you a dancer?' And she said no. She said no! And he said, 'Well do you have a 2-year-old?' And she said yes. And he said, 'Do you have a black boyfriend?' And she said no. He said you don't have a black boyfriend?' And she said,'No.' He said, 'OK, so what is your boyfriend's name?' And it took her, I want to say a good 30 seconds to even think of a name. This is how you know she was just lying. She said 'Jake. He is white.'"
Rivera said she knew Lonna was dating Ruben Ebron, a black man who frequented Wacko's Gentlemen's Club, where they both worked.
"So when we got in my car, I asked her straight up, "Why are you lying?' And she told me -- her exact words -- 'I am not going to say anything until I get all of the details,'" Rivera said. "And I think the officer knew then that what she was saying wasn't truthful. And he asked if he could follow us. And I told him yes, please. Because I wanted to know what was going on."
Rivera says the officer followed her car to the Ravenwood Apartments.
"We pulled into her apartment complex and I saw the police. There were probably a good six or seven cars there. And I said, 'Is at your apartment?' And she said, 'Yeah. but just go to the left.' And I was like, 'No. I am not going to do that. I am going to take you to your house.'"
Rivera, who has a 3-year-old son, says Barton's behavior was very odd for a mother who was told her child was missing.
"You got confirmation that it was your kid, you see the police outside your house, you see Ruben outside of the house, now you know and you are just completely emotionless? Not crying, not hysterical, not screaming at Ruben, 'Where is my kid?'" Rivera said. "When she got out of the car, she went directly to Ruben, was almost like consoling him as if he was the victim. So it was just really weird for me. The whole thing was just backwards. If it was me I would have been freaking out."
Rivera said she didn't know Lonna Barton well before that night, they definitely weren't friends and she hasn't spoken to her since. She said Barton tried to come back to work after Lonzie disappeared because she said she needed the money, but Wacko's staff wouldn't let her, given the circumstances.
Rivera said her experience with Lonna Barton that night has been eating her up inside.
"Like I said, me as a mother, I can't. It is just so much to think about. And in the days after it happened, I couldn't even go to work. I went in the dressing room and there are pictures of Lonzie, and I just saw them and I just left. I couldn't even work," Rivera said.
Today, she continues to watch the case closely with a sore heart. She hopes Lonzie gets the justice he deserves.
"There's not a doubt in my mind that (Lonna Barton) doesn't know exactly where her baby is," Rivera said. "I don't understand that. Everybody deserves a proper burial. To think about a kid just being out there somewhere."
Rivera doesn't believe Lonzie is alive.
"That just comes from, you know, cases like this," she said. "If the child isn't found in the first 48 hours, (it) doesn't look good. And he is so small. And honestly, the police responded so fast that if he was in that area, the way that they were all over, he would have been found that night ... and alive."
Rivera told police her side of the story that morning. She said she will do anything she can to help them solve the case. Rivera said she no longer works at Wacko's because of what happened.
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