Police release mother's suicide note

September 24, 2006|By Stephen Hudak and Martin Comas | Stephen Hudak and Martin Comas,Orlando Sentinel

LEESBURG, Fla. -- Leesburg police released yesterday a note Melinda Duckett wrote just before she killed herself Sept. 8 at her grandparents' home.

Duckett wrote a letter addressed to the "public," in which she spoke of her love for her missing 2-year-old son and the anguish she felt at being "faced with ridicule and criticism" as rumors swirled about her role in his disappearance.

After completing the unsigned, two-page letter, the 21-year-old left it on the dashboard of her car, then took a shotgun and killed herself inside a closet at her grandparents' Lady Lake, Fla., home.

"I'm sorry this is short," Duckett wrote. "Usually I plan things out and am better with my writing. Your focus came off of my son. I love him and only wanted him safe in my arms. You created rumors and twisted words."

Police also released the tape of a 911 call made when 2-year-old Trenton Duckett was reported missing Aug. 27.

Police say they could have arrested Melinda Duckett within four days of her son's disappearance and more than a week before she killed herself, but they chose not to in hopes that she would lead them to the toddler.

Investigators began following Duckett and considered using other surveillance techniques, but the young mother shot herself before police could get her to cooperate fully.

Duckett's parents, critical of the investigation in which their daughter was considered the prime suspect, insist that detectives narrowed their focus too quickly on Duckett and without hard evidence. Beth and Jerry Eubank of Lockport, N.Y., said Friday's police revelation is more proof of investigators' incompetence.

"Basically they're admitting they screwed up," Beth Eubank said.

But after a news conference Friday, Leesburg police Chief William Chrisman defended investigators against "Monday-morning quarterbacking" and said the goal was - and still is - to find the boy.

"We have not given up hope," he said.

The charges on which authorities could have arrested Duckett involved a bogus e-mail they say she used to bolster her claim that Trenton might have been snatched from his bed by her estranged husband, Joshua Duckett.

Leesburg police Capt. Steve Rockefeller said investigators discovered Aug. 31 that Melinda Duckett had accessed Joshua Duckett's MySpace.com account July 3 and then wrote and e-mailed a threatening message to herself.

She used it the next day to lodge a police complaint and on July 5 to obtain a court order limiting Joshua Duckett's contact with Trenton.

Rockefeller said police kept their findings from Melinda Duckett but drafted a charging document that could have been signed quickly by a judge and used to arrest her in case she tried to flee.

"We wanted cooperation," he explained. "To come down heavy-handed with some kind of document like that - threatening [her] with arrest - that was not one of our investigative tactics."

The briefing Friday included representatives from key assisting agencies, including the FBI, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the Marion and Sumter county sheriff's offices.

Dave Donaway, chief of investigations for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said detectives monitored Melinda Duckett's movements, though they did not tail her or run round-the-clock surveillance.

The FBI was en route to the grandparents' home Sept. 8, the day she killed herself. Agents said they had planned to speak with the grandparents, Nancy and Bill Eubank, and not to Duckett.

Lady Lake and Leesburg police released Friday the 911 call made by Bill Eubank after Duckett's suicide.

"My granddaughter just killed herself," the grandfather calmly told a dispatcher. "She's in the closet. She shot herself."

Also Friday, investigators released their most comprehensive timeline to date of Melinda Duckett's activities Aug. 26 and Aug. 27, the day Trenton disappeared.

The timeline, pieced together with confirmed sightings and cell-phone records, ends at 6:55 p.m. Aug. 27, when a friend arrived at Duckett's apartment.

Police said the friend was Chris Pearce, one of two men who watched the film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels with Duckett until she said she discovered her son was missing.

Rockefeller, who would not identify the other guest, said Pearce answered all police questions and passed a polygraph test. He said he never saw Trenton.

Rockefeller said there were no sightings of Trenton after the afternoon of Aug. 26. He asked anyone who saw Melinda Duckett or her son to come forward.

Stephen Hudak and Martin Comas write for the Orlando Sentinel.

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