Breaking News
More () »

Retired JSO K-9 handler recalls finding two missing children in separate high-profile cases

Charlie Wilkie found the bodies of Lonzie Barton and Cherish Perrywinkle. Both were murdered in Jacksonville.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — The smiles and energy seen in home videos of 5-year-old Taylor Williams bring back some unfortunate and unforgettable memories for Charlie Wilkie.

"I still get recognized on the street," he told First Coast News. "People look at me and go, 'You're the cop that found those kids.'" 

In 2013, while working as a K-9 handler with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, he found the body of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle, who had been kidnapped, raped and murdered. Her body was found in the marsh of a creek behind a church.

Wilkie also arrested her killer, Donald Smith.  

"You could see where he actually drug Cherish out through the reeds and stuff and shoved her underneath a tree that was underwater," he said. 

Almost two years later, 21-month-old Lonzie Barton was reported missing.   Ruben Ebron, Lonzie's caregiver, admitted to dumping the toddler's body under a stack of tires in the Bayard area on Jacksonville's Southside.

RELATED: Remembering Lonzie | Four years since death of Jacksonville toddler Lonzie Barton

RELATED: 'Pretty much what I would have predicted': A warning ignored a decade before Cherish Perrywinkle’s murder

Wilkie would also be the one to find Lonzie's body.  

"Unfortunately, there were his remains," he recalled. "His skull was literally right at my feet." 

Those cases are hard to forget for Wilkie. The mental and emotional toll is hard on the father of four.  

"You want to be that hero," he said. "You want to be that person that helps bring them back and does something really helpful." 

In some cases that help falls short. He says it's in those times first responders need to step up to offer families a shoulder to lean on. 

"It's never going to be a thing that you are going to forget about or not remember," he said.

Before You Leave, Check This Out