Authorities believe two-year-old Florida boy may still be alive

Published 8:05 pm Thursday, November 16, 2006

Information from a restaurant employee who saw missing 2-year-old Trenton Duckett and his mother the day he disappeared has led investigators to believe the boy is still alive, authorities said Wednesday.

Investigators have also narrowed the timeline of when Trenton went missing to a roughly 30-minute period on Aug. 27 in Marion County and said there may have been a “conspiracy” between Trenton’s mother and another party to keep the boy away from his father.

Trenton’s mother, Melinda Duckett, committed suicide on Sept. 8 shortly after being questioned aggressively about her son’s disappearance by CNN talk-show host Nancy Grace during a taped program.

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Authorities focused on Melinda Duckett after some of Trenton’s toys, photographs and a sonogram photo were found in a trash bin in her apartment complex a day after he was reported missing.

Now, testimony from an employee at a Wendy’s restaurant in Belleview has opened up a new, parallel investigation by the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. The witness spoke with investigators on Sept. 27 after receiving encouragement from her family, authorities said.

“We are prepared to say that little Trenton is alive,” said Capt. James Pogue of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. “Why do we say that? Because no one has proven to us otherwise.”

The restaurant employee told authorities she saw Melinda and Trenton at the drive-through window she was working around 11:30 a.m. the day he went missing. The witness remembered asking Melinda — who the witness said had a tattoo on her left arm that matched authorities’ description — what the name of her son was, Pogue said.

About 30 minutes later Melinda Duckett came back to the drive-through window and ordered chicken tenders, the witness told authorities. This time, Trenton wasn’t with his mother. Authorities said the witness told them she asked Melinda where the boy was, and Melinda either said at her grandparents’, or at a babysitter’s, but the witness couldn’t remember clearly.

Authorities said they don’t believe she could have driven the 14 miles to her grandparents’ home Lady Lake and back to the Wendy’s in the timeframe supplied by the witness.

“We believe that it was possible during this time that she may have left that Wendy’s and actually met someone to hand Trenton off,” Pogue said.

The witness told authorities she may have seen Melinda at the restaurant a third time that day around 4 p.m. This time, she was with two males and a female, the witness said.

Authorities said they administered a polygraph test to the witness on Oct. 27, which she passed.

The boy’s father, Josh Duckett, was hopeful.

“We’ve stayed confident through all of it,” Duckett said Wednesday about his belief that Trenton is still alive. “We continue to stay confident.”