Search For Missing 5-Year-Old Continues Into Weekend
SATSUMA, Fla. – Officers and volunteers in Putnam County called Friday a productive day in the search for Haleigh Cummings.
More than 200 volunteers with the search-and-rescue group Texas Equusearch headed out into the woods on horseback, ATVs and on foot. Investigators said the day's efforts turned up "items of interest."
"We did discover some items of interest. I can't go into detail as to what those items are," Putnam County Sheriff's Office Capt. Rose said in an afternoon news briefing. "We are very hopeful that she is alive ... and we are looking forward to a very positive outcome."
Haleigh Cummings was last seen when she was put to bed at 10 p.m. Monday in her father's home just north of Satsuma. The 5-year-old girl was reported missing by her father and his girlfriend about 3 a.m.
By first light, a massive search was under way and a statewide Amber Alert was issued. On Wednesday, with no sign of Haleigh and a belief that a 5-year-old would not go out in the dark alone, investigators said they considered her disappearance an abduction.
Late Friday, the assessment was the same, but the tone was more optimistic.
"I'm not sure how many things we found today. I know that to each searcher it was significant," said Texas Equusearch member Barbie Tarr. "It is a sense of accomplishment. At least we know where she's not. We know we've covered some good ground today."
The group plans to cover even more ground on Saturday.
"Based on some of the finds that we found today, we might go back and research an area or we might focus around certain areas," Tarr said.
Tarr said the volunteers look for anything out of the ordinary, such as fresh tire tracks, beaten down brush, burn marks, clothing or anything that's out of place in the environment.
Tarr said she hopes that Saturday's search would be just as productive. She said their main purpose is to put peace back into the lives of Haleigh's loved ones.
Saturday's search is expected to involve the use of high-tech equipment, including some SONAR devices and also thermal-imaging cameras.
Original Police Report: Officers Found Child's Footprint
Friday evening, Channel 4 obtained the original police report that states deputies found what "appeared to be a small child's footprint" in the dirt on a path behind the house on the night Haleigh disappeared.
The discovery was made when officers first arrived and called in K-9 officers to the Cummings' home in the early-morning hours when the girl was reported missing.
According to the report, "The track lead directly out the back door, and down a wooded path. As we traveled down the wooded path, we located what appeared to be a small child's footprint in the dirt."
The report goes on to say, "It should be noted that (Haleigh's father) said Haleigh's shoes were still inside the residence."
The dogs and officers followed the track to a pond and then circled back near the Cummings' home and then out of the neighborhood to a location very near Haleigh's school bus stop.
The details of the initial investigation recorded by officers have not been commented on by the sheriff. However, over the last several days, the entire area of the neighborhood within a five-mile radius of Haleigh's home has been searched and searched again. Interviews have been conducted with all neighbors, all of the sexual offenders registered in the area and all of Haleigh's family members.
Putnam County Sheriff Jeff Hardy said his investigators have pursued more than 350 leads and plan to re-interview family members and others who had contact with Haleigh.
"At this time, the world is a suspect," Hardy said. "We really haven't excluded anybody."
Dominick Pape, special agent in charge of the Jacksonville office of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said forensic evidence collected during the investigation such as DNA and fingerprints would be a priority.
About 20 agents are working around the clock at a command center parked near the doublewide mobile home where the girl went missing.
2 Candlelight Vigils Held For Haleigh
Every night since Haleigh's disappearance, family and friends have gathered to light candles, pray and support one another through these difficult times.
Family members said the support they've received from the community has given them the strength to keep holding on to hope.
The Cummings family has been coming together for the past several nights, but the girl's mother's family held their own vigil on Friday night.
The two candlelight vigils took place just down the road from one another.
"We just think for now it's better, because I don?t want to say something to y'all or maybe say something to a friend and somebody overhears it and it offends them," said Haleigh's grandmother, Marie Griffiths.
Griffiths said since Haleigh's went missing, the child's father, Ronald Cummings, has personally offered an apology to Haleigh's mother, Crystal Sheffield.
"The only thing she said is that he told her that he was sorry and that he knew if he would have been at home that this wouldn't have happened," Griffiths said.
She said no one in her family was made aware of what searchers had found in the woods on Friday. Still, she said the knowing the items were found has reassured the family that their little girl is alive.
"It makes me more hopeful, if it's from the sheriff's office, that maybe they have a lead," Griffiths said.
Investigators said with the hundreds of leads that flooded into the sheriff's office since the 5-year-old disappeared, Haleigh's mother has been asked at least once to identify a girl who FBI agents thought may have been Haleigh.
Despite the ups and downs, through every hour Haleigh's loved ones have remained steadfast in their belief that Haleigh is just waiting to be found.
"She's alive. She is alive. I feel her, and until God devastates my heart and I can't feel her any more, I will continue to believe that she is here," Griffiths said.
Authorities ask anyone with any information to call the Putnam County Sheriff's Office at 386-329-0800 or the FDLE's Missing Endangered Persons Information Clearinghouse at 888-FL-MISSING.
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