Missing woman's mother makes emotional plea for information

Nassau County sheriff says investigators believe Joleen Cummings 'not alive'

YULEE, Fla. – Hours before a Tuesday evening vigil for a missing Nassau County woman who disappeared more than a week ago, her mother begged anyone with information about her daughter's disappearance to come forward.

The emotional plea came during a news conference Tuesday afternoon, during which Sheriff Bill Leeper announced that deputies have reason to believe Joleen Cummings "is not alive" and they have a suspect in custody.

"We are all heartbroken," said Anne Johnson, Cummings' mother.

READ: Deputies believe missing mom 'not alive'; suspect in custody |
UNCUT: Joleen Cummings' mother pleads for information at news conference |
SLIDESHOW: Photos of Joleen Cummings

Cummings, a mother of three children, was last seen leaving work at Tangles Hair Salon on State Road 200 on May 12. The 34-year-old was reported missing May 14, the day after she didn't pick up her three children from her ex-husband.

"Sunday (May 13) was a special day. Not only Mother's Day, but it was her birthday," Johnson said. "She was born on Mother's Day."

As she fought back tears, Johnson talked about Cummings' love for her children.

"Her children were her life," she said.

Johnson believes somebody out there knows something, and asked for the public to assist law enforcement agencies by being their eyes and their ears.

"I beg you, as a mother, to please keep coming forward with any information that you have -- no matter how small," Johnson said. "Help with any possible leads that can help locate my daughter, for my three grandchildren who miss her so much. We want closure."

She also made another request of the public.

"There's one thing I believe with all my heart. It's prayer," Johnson said. "Help pray. Pray to bring our family closure."

Leeper declined to say what evidence investigators had found that led them to believe Cummings is no longer alive, but said that a woman, 50-year-old Jennifer Sybert, was arrested Tuesday morning and is considered a suspect in Cummings' disappearance.

The sheriff said Sybert, whose real name is Kimberly Kessler, was a fellow stylist at Tangles Hair Salon and was the last person to see Cummings.

Several hours later, loved ones and community members packed Journey Church of Yulee, where the vigil for Cummings was held.

At the vigil, Johnson held on tight to a photo of her daughter while loved ones gathered around her, holding lit candles. Cummings' mother reiterated her call for prayers.

"I ask you to please continuously pray feverishly for my daughter, for my daughter to be found," she said.

Alma Powers, one of Cummings' best friends, said they're praying for both closure and justice.

"The news today threw us off completely," Powers said. "To hear them say 'body' now makes it really real."

Powers and Mariah Lorraine, another close friend, said they never knew Sybert, who deputies said was Cummings' coworker at Tangles Hair Salon.

“A co-worker of mine was up there on Thursday and she said they were arguing and that there was just weird vibes at the salon between the two of them," Lorraine said. “What made her go after Joleen? What happened for this turn of events? What happened for this many people to be brokenhearted and devastated? What happened at that salon?”

First Baptist Church of Hilliard Pastor Joshua Tillman, who watches Cummings' sons every week, also spoke at the vigil.

"My heart just broke for them," Tillman said. "It's difficult losing a mother and not having a mother-figure prominent in everyday life."

Cummings' family and friends hold onto the memories they have of the mother of three as they continue to pray she will be found soon.

Anyone with information that would help investigators find Cummings or aid in the case is asked to contact the Nassau County Sheriff's Office at 904-548-4005 or First Coast Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS.

About the Authors:

Corley Peel is a Texas native and Texas Tech graduate who covered big stories in Joplin, Missouri, Tulsa, Oklahoma and Jacksonville, Florida before returning to the Lone Star State. When not reporting, Corley enjoys hot yoga, Tech Football, and finding the best tacos in town.