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 Eight months later, hope for Haleigh remains strong

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PostSubject: Eight months later, hope for Haleigh remains strong   Thu Oct 08, 2009 2:26 am

Eight months later, hope for Haleigh remains strong
By Lise Fisher
Staff writer
Published: Tuesday, October 6, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.

SATSUMA - It has been almost eight months since 6-year-old Haleigh Cummings was last seen. But signs encouraging prayers for her still are posted around southern Putnam County, and residents remain hopeful that at the very least, her family will receive answers.

Employees at Byrd's Housing Center off U.S. 17 said their sign - "Our prayers are with the Haleigh Cummings family to bring Haleigh home" - went down only once about two months ago after the child had been reported missing on Feb. 10. Then a woman stopped at the business to say how much it had touched her that they had kept it posted for so long. The message went back up and has been flashing ever since, sales manager Jan Harrison said.

"It's just so close. It's personal for all of us," bookkeeper Linda Stevens said of the community's continued prayers for the girl's return. The business is located just north on the highway from the neighborhood where Haleigh was last seen.

Putnam County sheriff's spokesman Lt. Johnny Greenwood used almost the same words when explaining officers' feelings about the investigation.

"I can promise the citizens, especially of Putnam County, that we are taking every means available to us to come to resolution in this case. We want an end to this like the family does," he said. "This has become part of us now. We want to find Haleigh and bring her home to her family, and whatever it takes, we're going to do it."

Haleigh was 5 years old when she was last seen at her father's home in Satsuma. Initial reports said the girl was at the residence, a rented mobile home off Green Lane, with her younger brother and her father's girlfriend, whom he later married, Misty Croslin-Cummings. Greenwood said officers have a report that another relative last saw the girl at about 7 p.m. that night.

Croslin-Cummings told officers Haleigh went to bed at about 8 p.m. and that when she woke up, she thought about 3 a.m., to go the bathroom she noticed Haleigh was missing. The back screen door had been propped open with a cinder block. There were no signs of forced entry.

Early in the case, officers interviewed sex offenders living in the area to eliminate any as possible suspects. They have since repeatedly searched for Haleigh in the woods and water, including the St. Johns River and a pond off State Road 19.

In recent months, the focus of the investigation has shifted from a possible stranger abduction to questioning people related to or acquainted with Haleigh. Investigators have said the girl's biological parents are not suspects.

Ronald Cummings was in and out of jail during the summer on an unrelated charge of burglary with assault or battery after a fight involving his wife's relatives. Croslin-Cummings' brother and mother were arrested last month in cases the Sheriff's Office also said were not related to Haleigh's disappearance. Tommy Croslin is accused of taking a former neighbor's gun, while Lisa Croslin is accused of forging a check that belonged to the same neighbor.

Greenwood said these arrests are not because of the investigation into Haleigh's disappearance but acknowledged the Sheriff's Office has and will continue to take advantage of these opportunities to question people about the missing child.

"These individuals (who) are being arrested are being arrested for other things they are doing out there in the community, but we've always taken the stance that if we have an opportunity of speaking to anybody that might know something in this case, we're going to speak with them," Greenwood said.

After Croslin-Cummings' brother was arrested last month, investigators revealed Hank "Tommy" Croslin Jr. had told them Haleigh's father had asked him to check on his home the night Haleigh disappeared because he couldn't reach his then-girlfriend. The house was dark, and no one answered the door when he banged on it, the Sheriff's Office reported Tommy Croslin told them.

Investigators have said Croslin-Cummings is the key to the case and that her version of events the night the girl disappeared doesn't add up.

"She's the key person, and we'll still say that," Greenwood said. Her accounts and the physical evidence "don't match up," he said.

"We need to know what was going on that night. All we've been able to obtain at this point are sketchy statements from Misty Croslin. We do not know what she was doing that night," Greenwood said.

Croslin-Cummings' attorney, Robert Fields, said her report of what happened that night has not changed and that he doesn't know what else investigators want.

"How can they say that after questioning her for seven months without an attorney," he said, referring to investigators' comments about his client.

Attempts last week to contact Ronald Cummings, Tommy Croslin and others connected to Haleigh at their homes were not successful.

The Sheriff's Office has one primary investigator assigned to the case. Members of the agency's Major Crimes Unit, who meet daily, are briefed on the case to see if there is a need to conduct an interview or search. And a Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent, working out of the Sheriff's Office, reviews tips to check that deputies haven't missed anything.

A homicide investigator also is assigned to the investigation.

"Really, right now, we're working this as a missing person because we haven't received any relevant information to this date that she's deceased," Greenwood said. "But we do keep our homicide investigator in the loop and in this investigation in the event that we do discover she's not alive any more."

Greenwood wouldn't talk about what forensic evidence has been gathered in the investigation except to say that the evidence is with FDLE.

However, he said the case now is centered on "old-fashioned police work" such as interviews and following up on tips, which once amounted to about 100 a day and now tally about 10 to 15 on a good day.

Many tips duplicate previous information the Sheriff's Office already has or offer advice on how to conduct the investigation, Greenwood said. But when officers receive a new tip, they investigate it, such as information about L Pond in southern Putnam County.

A letter allegedly from Kristina Prevatt, an acquaintance of Croslin-Cummings who is being held in the Putnam County jail on charges including drug and narcotic equipment possession, said there had been a report that Haleigh was taken to a party where she died from a drug overdose and then was taken to the pond. Greenwood said officers knew about the pond before the letter. It was drained in late September but yielded no new information about the missing girl, the Sheriff's Office has reported.

Although they had hoped there would be answers by now, Harrison and Stevens of Byrd Housing Center said they believe investigators are doing what they can to find Haleigh.

"I think the family needs some closure, whether it be good or bad," Harrison said.

Harrison said she wasn't surprised by the case's turn from a possible stranger abduction to focusing on people close to the girl.

"I feel it was like this from the beginning," she said.


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