Family Stunned by Duckett Suicide

The mourners who gathered at Melinda Duckett’s memorial service in Lady Lake, Fla., on Friday recalled that once, years ago, her life was filled with promise. Born in South Korea and adopted by American parents, Duckett arrived in the United States on Christmas Eve in 1985, soft and sweet and only four months old. A wide new world awaited her. So it was with crushing sorrow that those gathered absorbed two heartbreaking losses—the disappearance of her two-year-old son, Trenton, in August and Duckett’s subsequent suicide last week.

At the memorial service, which was held at the Chapel of Christian Faith in Lady Lake, visitors were greeted by a portrait of Melinda and Trenton before the pulpit. A few shared their memories of Melinda, who was 21 when she died. “I will always remember what a sweet girl she was,” said one former coworker. Another recalled how “Mindy” savored the chicken at Hardee’s and relished a ride on a golf cart when she’d visit her grandparents, who live in a nearby retirement community. Toward the end, the pastor read a poem, “Footprints in the Sand,” a framed version of which Duckett had given to her grandfather.

“Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you,

you would walk with me all the way,

but I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life

there is only one set of footprints.

“I don't understand why in times when I needed you most,

you should leave me.”

The Lord replied, “My precious, precious child,

I love you and I would never, never leave you

during your times of trial and suffering.

“When you saw only one set of footprints,

it was then that I carried you.”

Duckett’s turbulent life took a tragic turn in the past few weeks. On Aug. 27, a few weeks after Trenton’s second birthday, Duckett told police she drove him around all day while shopping. Once back at home, she said, she put Trenton to bed at 6:30 p.m. A few minutes before 7:00 p.m., she reported, she checked on him and found him fast asleep. Then two friends came over to watch the 1998 Guy Ritchie film, “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” When Duckett checked on Trenton once again at 9:00 p.m., she told cops, his crib was empty. She said she noticed that the window screen above was torn and that a photograph had fallen off the window sill. A few minutes after 9:00 p.m., she called the police. That set off a frenzied hunt for the boy, as law enforcement searched nearby forests, construction sites and even a pet cemetery.

Before long, however, Duckett’s version of events came under question. For one thing, the two friends who came to watch the movie told authorities that they never saw Trenton (they were later discounted as suspects). More importantly, Duckett seemed hesitant and elusive in a TV interview with CNN’s Nancy Grace, who fired a fusillade of questions at her. Duckett tripped on seemingly basic points like where exactly she went shopping with Trenton the day he disappeared. By the end of the interview, which was pre-recorded, Grace was pounding her desk and demanding, “Where were you? Why aren’t you telling us where you were that day?”

Hours before the interview aired on the evening of Sept. 7, Duckett was at the home of her grandparents, Bill and Nancy Eubanks. In an interview with NEWSWEEK, her grandfather recounted the horror of that day. When Duckett declined to join the Eubankses for lunch at Cracker Barrel, they offered to bring her back some macaroni and cheese. That sounded good, she replied. When the couple returned in the afternoon, however, they couldn’t find Duckett. “Where’s Mindy?” asked Nancy. After searching throughout the house, they found her in a bedroom closet. She had killed herself with Bill’s shotgun (Duckett had purchased a 20-gauge shotgun herself in August, according to police, and sometimes went to target practice). Bill immediately called the cops. When they arrived, he says, they found her so disfigured that they couldn’t identify her facially. Only when the family provided them with a photo showing a tattoo on Duckett’s arm were they able to confirm the body was her.

Authorities are continuing their investigation. They now consider Duckett the person most likely responsible for Trenton’s disappearance, according to Leesburg police captain Steve Rockefeller. But they haven’t yet ruled out Trenton’s father, Josh Duckett, whose separation from Melinda was acrimonious and who hadn’t seen Trenton since June. In the wake of Melinda Duckett’s death, the search for Trenton has stalled. “There is an increasing chance he is no longer alive,” said Rockefeller.

Bill Eubanks would never have imagined such a dreadful end for his granddaughter. After growing up in upstate New York with her adoptive parents, Duckett moved down to Florida to live with her grandparents when she was a teenager. Ambitious and hard-working, she was an honors student in high school, according to Eubanks. “She had to be one of the best,” he says.

When she was a junior, Duckett met Josh at an ice cream parlor and the two began dating. They loved lazing on the beach or riding motorcycles. In her senior year, Duckett became pregnant with Trenton, who was born just after her graduation in 2004. A year later, she and Josh married. But the relationship was rocky from the start. On several occasions, according to police records, authorities had to visit the couple to break up arguments. Josh told Nancy Grace that at one point, Melinda was sent to a mental-health facility because she was threatening suicide. In June, Melinda filed for divorce, and a month later, she was granted a restraining order against Josh.

Bill Eubanks insists that his granddaughter would never have done anything to harm Trenton. A few days after the boy disappeared, he says, he asked Duckett to sit down with him. “Give me your hands,” he said. “I want you to look me in the eye. Do you know where Trenton is?” According to Eubanks, she replied, “Poppy, I don’t know where Trenton is.” Eubanks says he believed her and that “she never lied to me before.” Whatever the truth, Duckett may have taken it to her grave.