Publisher’s note: This story was republished Dec. 27, 2022 as a part of Inside Lake’s Top 10 stories of 2022.
LEESBURG, Florida—Nearly 16 years ago, Leesburg and Lake County were thrust into the national spotlight when a mom going through a divorce and custody battle reported her tiny toddler missing. Over the next two weeks those close to the boy would go through a whirlwind of emotions as police found sonogram pictures in a dumpster, accused the boy’s father of taking him and investigated the mother’s suicide.
Wednesday, Josh Duckett should be eating cake and watching his oldest son Trenton transition into adulthood on his 18th birthday on this typical, warm August evening, but instead he is still waiting for answers years after his son went missing.
Sixteen years ago, Josh was a young father of a 2-year-old boy going through a nasty divorce with the toddler’s mom, Melinda Duckett. After Melinda hacked one of Josh’s social media accounts and sent herself a threatening Myspace message, Melinda was granted an injunction and all custody and visitation rights were snatched away from Josh. He never imagined when he took Trenton swimming for the weekend just before the message was sent, that would be the last he saw his smiling little boy who was learning to use the potty on his own. And now the tiny toddler, residents of Lake County and people all around the country prayed for, is an 18-year-old man if he is still alive.
Many theories have been thrown around over the years by law enforcement, family, friends, strangers and armchair detectives, but there is no evidence Trenton is deceased. “There is no verifiable proof he is dead,” Leesburg Police Capt. Joe Iozzi said.
Tips still come in so many years later and the latest tip came on Trenton’s birthday from the FBI, according to Iozzi. “We work with all local, state, federal and even international agencies to follow up on tips,” he told Inside Lake.
An investigator is assigned to the case and LPD continues to utilize all available assets from other law enforcement agencies and all forms of media, including print media, broadcast media and social media to crack the case.
“The case is never cold,” Iozzi said, “it’s open all the time. After all these years, he is not forgotten.”
Still today, Trenton’s missing child flyer adorns the front of LPD as visitors walk in the front door.
On Aug. 27, 2006, 2-year-old Trenton was reported missing by his mother, Melinda. She told authorities she put him down for bed around 6 p.m. and after watching “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” with two male friends, she checked on him and he was gone, the screen in his bedroom window sliced open. She soon became a suspect – police found discarded sonogram photos in the dumpster of her apartment complex, and they didn’t buy her story about the cut screen. Leesburg Police Department soon began tracking her movements in the days before the boy went missing.
Information she gave the police did not match evidence found through surveillance videos and witness accounts and the case began to attract national attention.
The boy’s disappearance was covered by Nancy Grace, Greta Van Susteren and Dr. Phil to name a few and less than two weeks later, Melinda took her own life. “It’s a pretty puzzling case,” Iozzi said, and Melinda took all the answers with her when she committed suicide.
The suicide happened just one day after a fist-pounding interview by Grace. Melinda’s adoptive parents later sued Grace and agreed to a $250,000 settlement.
Each year, on Aug. 27, Josh holds a candlelight vigil to mark Trenton’s disappearance at Leesburg’s Town Square. Even now, so many years later there are often more than two dozen people in attendance. This year will be no different, Josh plans to be there once again, and will give a small speech and light candles at nightfall.
“We have never given up,” Josh told Inside Lake. “We continue to fight. Hopefully, we can bring him home where he belongs.”
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) releases an age-progressed photo approximately every two years, according to Josh. The most recent photo was released in June and portrays what Trenton may look like at 17 years old.
When asked if he believes the photo is close to what Trenton may look like today, Josh said, “It’s hard to say. (NCMEC) takes photos of me and Melinda to create the photo of Trenton. Not knowing whose features are dominant…it’s hard to say.”
If you have information on Trenton’s disappearance, call LPD at 352-787-2121.