SATSUMA, Fla. - Eight years ago on Feb. 9, Haleigh Cummings was last seen alive at her home in the small Putnam County town of Satsuma.
Haleigh would be 13 years old this year. Investigators ultimately believed she's no longer alive.
News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith provided insight into why the case has been so difficult to solve.
"There is something about unsolved child murder cases that just grabs our attention," Smith said.
The 5-year-old girl disappeared after her babysitter, Misty Croslin, said she put the child to bed, according to the Putnam County Sheriff's Office.
Misty Croslin was the then-girlfriend of Ronald Cummings, Haleigh’s father. He was working that night, and was quickly cleared of involvement.
Investigators said there were others at the house the night Haleigh disappeared -- Misty Croslin’s brother Hank Croslin Jr., her cousin Joe Overstreet and possibly two other people.
The St. Johns River was searched, repeatedly, because the next morning, bloodhounds brought in went right to the river. Ponds were searched and one was even drained. The Sheriff's Office brought Misty Croslin and the others in for questioning for months, but no trace of Haleigh was ever found.
On April 15, 2010, Putnam County Sheriff Jeff Hardy announced Haleigh was most likely dead, and the case was being worked as a homicide.
Misty Croslin, Ronald Cummings, Hank Croslin Jr. and two others were arrested in January of 2010 for trafficking in pain pills during an undercover operation that had been going on for months. They all eventually pleaded guilty or no contest, and are all serving lengthy prison terms.
Two years after her disappearance, the Sheriff's Office released a statement, saying the ongoing investigation has "minimized the likelihood that Haleigh’s disappearance is the work of a stranger," and those who know what happened still won’t tell investigators. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI also worked the case.
While murder was one of several scenarios detectives investigated, Smith said the evidence just wasn't there.
"Without a body, it's just that much more difficult to charge someone with murder because there would be so much more evidence with the body to make a determination about how she died or when she died," he said.
Last year, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children released an updated age-progression photo of Haleigh at age 12.
It was difficult for Annette Sykes, Haleigh's great-grandmother, to image when News4Jax showed her the photo for the first time in January 2016.
“I'm just wondering if that’s really what she looks like, you know? It very well could be. The eyes are good,” Sykes said, her eyes filled with tears.
Skyes and Teresa Neves, Haleigh's grandmother, continue to cling to hope the girl is alive somewhere, despite the statements from the Sheriff's Office.
But no matter how old the case gets, Smith said, "in a cold case, the case is always open. If anyone has any other information that could lead to the solving of this case, then they need to call law enforcement."
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