Landfill search hits home for Somer Thompson's mother, sergeant

Somer's body discovered at same landfill where FBI to search in Cummings case

By Corley Peel - Reporter, Kent Justice - Anchor/reporter, Colette DuChanois - Web producer

The announcement Friday that the FBI will be searching a Charlton County, Georgia, landfill for possible evidence in Nassau County mother Joleen Cummings’s disappearance hit home for Somer Thompson's mother and the sergeant who discovered the 7-year-old girl's body.

The Chesser Island Landfill, where the organized search in the Cummings case will take place, is the same landfill where the body of Somer was found nearly nine years ago.

Diena Thompson, Somer's mother, told News4Jax that she remembers that day like it was yesterday.

"My neighbors could hear me screaming across the street, with doors closed, because it was just the worst-case scenario," Thompson said. 

READ MORE: FBI to search landfill for evidence in mother's disappearance

Though Thompson said she lives with tragedy every day, she hopes the search of the landfill will bring Cummings' family closure like she had. 

"It was truly a miracle that they found Somer," she said. "Hopefully, God willing, they will find what they're looking for in this case."

The announcement that a specially-trained search team of 25 members from FBI offices would be  searching the Chesser Island Landfill also took Clay County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Matt Williams back in time.

“As soon as I heard the news this afternoon on the radio, I immediately thought back to that day, doing that search up there in that same dump,” Williams told News4Jax. “It brought back a lot of memories.”

Williams said Friday’s announcement took him back to Oct. 21, 2009, when he and two Clay County detectives conducted a search for the missing 7-year-old.

“We were looking for Somer Thompson,” Williams recounted. 

Williams is the person who found Somer’s body that day, sorting through 100 tons of garbage.

That discovery provided closure for the girl’s family and the community, and sealed the case against her killer, Jarred Harrell, who was sentenced to life in prison.

Williams said luck played a factor, as well as his determination not to fail.

“We had another case in our area around that same time. It still hasn’t been solved. That kept going through my mind that day. I kept saying, ‘That’s not going to be us. That’s not going to us. We’re going to get this right,’” he said. “I think we just lucked out and we got it right.”

While Williams found the person he was looking for in the landfill, he said that searching for evidence in the Cummings case will be even more difficult than his assignment. 

“I wish them the best. It’s going to be tough physically and mentally,” he said. “Especially mentally if you actually find something.”

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