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Lunsford joins search for boy

Mark Lunsford, whose daughter Jessica was killed last year, is trying to assist the family of a missing Leesburg child.

By JOHN FRANK
Published September 7, 2006


[Special to the Times: Kate Blackman]
Mark Lunsford, right, is helping Joshua Duckett left find his missing son Trenton Duckett.


Trenton Duckett disappeared from his home on Aug. 27.

LEESBURG - Joshua Duckett took a break Wednesday from distributing fliers about his missing 2-year-old son to get advice from an unlikely media strategist.

But Mark Lunsford knows exactly what Duckett is going through.

"They are going to ask you all sorts of awful questions," said Lunsford, father of slain 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford. "You don't have to answer their questions, just say what you want to say."

Lunsford, whose daughter's disappearance and death in February 2005 from her Citrus County home sparked national headlines, is lending his name and energy to the search for Trenton Duckett. The boy disappeared the night of Aug. 27 from his bedroom at his mother's Leesburg apartment complex.

Police are still investigating the disappearance, and say everyone - including Joshua Duckett and his estranged 21-year-old wife Melinda - is being considered a potential suspect.

For Lunsford, Joshua Duckett's case revives dark memories.

Jessica was taken from her Homosassa bedroom the night of Feb. 23. In both cases, window screens were sliced open.

Duckett, an electrician apprentice, lives with his parents, as did Lunsford. And like Duckett, Lunsford was a suspect at the start.

Lunsford said he tries not to dwell on the similarities. He came to help at the request of an FBI agent.

"My focus is getting (Trenton's) picture out there," Lunsford said. "Somebody knows something. Somebody needs to come forward."

Lunsford didn't come to offer a shoulder to cry on, either. He and Joshua Duckett say they would rather search for information than focus on the loss.

But Lunsford is a celebrity, of sorts, akin to John Walsh, the host of America's Most Wanted. And that's how he wants to help.

Outside a Lake County yogurt shop on Wednesday, he called Walsh, Fox News, CNN Headline News and other media contacts collected during his frequent television appearances after his daughter's disappearance.

Talking with a producer for TV host Nancy Grace, Lunsford was able to get Joshua Duckett a tentative spot on tonight's show.

"You tell Nancy I'd be tickled to death," Lunsford told the producer from his Blackberry cell phone.

Hanging up, he told Duckett the best way to bring Trenton home is to capitalize on every opportunity to get his son's picture on TV.

"Don't cancel one (TV appearance) for another even though they'll ask you to," Lunsford told him. "They respect you more when you don't."

Duckett nodded. He had never appeared on television or been quoted in the newspaper before his son disappeared.

After Lunsford made a handful of calls and scribbled phone numbers on a little piece of paper, the counseling continued.

"What you will have to do is get your mom or your friends to take care of your schedule," said Lunsford, who now has a publicist keep his appointments.

Carla Massero, Duckett's mother, was sitting nearby. She nodded.

"She used to be a secretary, so she can do that," Duckett said.

Duckett said he last saw his son in June, the same month Melinda Duckett filed for divorce.

A judge later granted Melinda Duckett a temporary restraining order against Joshua Duckett after he threatened to kill her and Trenton, police said.

It was Melinda Duckett who put her son to bed at 7 p.m. on that Sunday night. Two hours later, he was missing.

Trenton is the grandson of James Duckett, 48, a former Mascotte police officer who is on death row for raping, strangling and drowning an 11-year-old girl in 1987.

Lunsford's visit to Lake County was sandwiched between trips around the country to push for tougher laws to punish child molesters. This is the first time he has helped in the search for a missing child since 13-year-old Sarah Lunde was abducted in Hillsborough County by a sex offender two months after Jessica's disappearance.

Lunsford's advice, and his presence, brought hope, Joshua Duckett said. He said he knows Trenton is going to return home. "It's the only way to think," he said. "You have to think positive."

MISSING

Trenton J. Duckett, a 2-year-old boy, has brown hair and brown eyes. He is about 3 feet tall and weighs 30 to 40 pounds. He was last seen wearing a blue and green striped shirt, blue denim shorts and no shoes. Federal and state authorities have launched a nationwide search and ask anyone with information about the disappearance to call the Leesburg Police Department at (352) 787-2121.

[Last modified September 10, 2006, 10:27:34]


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