Week After Haleigh Goes Missing, Police Keep Working
Sheriff To Family: 'Do Not Give Up Hope'
PALATKA, Fla. – One week after 5-year-old Haleigh Cummings disappeared from her bedroom, local, state and federal authorities have sent volunteer search-and-rescue teams home but said they will continue "tactical searches" in response to new leads.
Almost from the beginning, authorities treated Haleigh's disappearance as an abduction.
Late Monday, Putnam County Sheriff Jeff Hardy urged everyone involved not to give up hope that the girl will be found alive.
"We're asking the family, 'Do not give up hope.' We have hope that we're going to find Haleigh, and we hope to bring her home alive," Hardy said, his voice cracking. "As I explained it to them with my staff -- we've not abandoned the search. Depending on the urgency of the tip, we have resources ready to deploy."
Sunday, after a six-day search of a 5-mile area around the Satsuma mobile home where Haleigh disappeared at times involving hundreds of people, officials suspended general search operations.
But a tip that came in Monday morning prompted about 60 officers to search for hours in a field near Pomona Park -- about 10 miles south of Satsuma. They left without finding anything significant.
Haleigh's family, which expressed support for the decision to scale back the daily searches on Sunday, was openly critical Monday that not enough was being done.
"I asked that we get permission for horses to still be out here to look," Haleigh's father, Ronald Cummings, said Monday. "It's not time to give up. It's still time. My daughter is still out there, and we want her home."
Crystal Sheffield, Haleigh's mother, also hoped search efforts will continue.
"I feel like they should stay expand the search," Sheffield said. "They need to search other areas, but I do think they should stay."
Florida Department of Law Enforcement Special Agent Dominic Pape confirmed that efforts to find Haleigh have not diminished, just entered a new phase.
"We will continue searching until she is recovered," Pape said. "We will search any place in this county and outside this country if we get a valid lead that says we need to be there."
Authorities said they have received more than 500 tips over the past several days, which is one of the reasons the command center was moved from a trailer in Satsuma to county offices in Palatka, where investigators had access to more resources.
Hardy said Haleigh's mother, father, his girlfriend and extended family members were being interviewed again, even though he has praised them for cooperating over the past week.
"We don't have all our questions answered and, obviously, we don't have Haleigh," Hardy said. "We'll interview people as many times as we feel necessary."
Channel 4's Laura Mazzeo and Diane Cho report a large number of federal agents and local police at the Cummings' mobile home late Monday afternoon. Also, police set up a checkpoint on Buffalo Bluff -- the road leading in and out of the neighborhood -- where detectives stopped and talked with the drivers.
No one would discuss what information prompted those responses.
Search-And-Rescue Team Leaves Disappointed
After three days of searching the area on horseback and all-terrain vehicles and using high-tech equipment, the volunteer search-and-rescue team Texas Equusearch was preparing to leave Satsuma.
"The hardest thing about our organization is for every person involved to put this kind of effort into it and walk away empty-handed," Equusearch founder Tim Miller said Sunday night. "It's heart-breaking, it truly is. But you what? When you look at the whole picture, we did everything right. Our hearts were here, our compassion was here, we was focused on what we was doing -- she just isn't here."
Authorities ask anyone with any information to call Crimes Stoppers at 888-277-TIPS or the FDLE's Missing Endangered Persons Information Clearinghouse at 888-FL-MISSING.
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