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Tuesday is HaLeigh Cummings’ 18th birthday

Putnam County girl disappeared 12 years ago from her bed

Age progression photo from National Center for Missing and Exploited Children shows HaLeigh Cummings on the left at age 5. On the right, what she's believed to look like at age 16. (News4Jax.com)

PUTNAM COUNTY, Fla. – It’s hard to believe the little girl this community spent days and weeks looking for turns 18 years old on Tuesday.

HaLeigh Cummings was just 5 years old when she disappeared in the early morning hours of Feb. 10, 2009, from bed in her father’s Putnam County home. While investigators have said they believe her babysitter, Misty Croslin, never told them everything about what happened that night, no one has ever been charged in connection with her disappearance. HaLeigh has not been seen since that night.

For her paternal grandmother, Teresa Neves, the pain of losing HaLeigh has worsened each year she has been gone.

“It never gets easier,” said Neves tearfully.

INTO THIN AIR: The disappearance of HaLeigh Cummings

Twelve years have passed since HaLeigh Cumming's disappeared from her Putnam County mobile home. Her family remains confident that she will come home someday.

She thinks about all the moments HaLeigh has missed at home. She would have recently graduated from high school, gone to prom -- all the things her grandmother missed about watching her grow.

When Neves closes her eyes at night, she still sees HaLeigh as the 5-year-old girl who was always happy.

“How tall is she now? What color is her hair?” Neves wonders. “It’s hard to think that you don’t even know what she looks like.”

She has not stopped believing HaLeigh is alive. Neither has Neves’ mother and HaLeigh’s great-grandmother, Annette Sykes.

“There is nothing to show me or make me believe that she is not alive,” insisted Sykes.

“There are too many children who have been found since she has been gone,” Sykes cried. “They’ve been gone longer than she has, yet there they were. Why can’t I keep believing that she is alive? Those children were, and they came back to their families. We just have to wait for our turn, for her to come back to us, for someone to have the guts or the heart to tell us where she is or how to find her.”

Teresa Neves and Annette Sykes (WJXT)

I’ve interviewed the former lead investigators in HaLeigh’s missing persons’ case. They have no evidence that she died, nor has her body ever been found. It’s why her grandmothers feel so strongly that HaLeigh could still be alive.

The 5-year-old was home with her father’s girlfriend, Croslin, the night she was reported missing. HaLeigh’s younger brother, Ronald Cummings Jr., was with them. Their father, Ronald Cummings, worked a midnight shift and had left his children with Croslin. When he came home, the 17-year-old told him she had just awakened to find the 5-year-old missing from bed. Croslin said the kindergartener and her brother were sleeping in bed in the same room as her, but when she woke up to get a drink of water, she noticed HaLeigh was gone. She told a 911 dispatcher that the back door to the mobile home was propped open with a brick. She told Ronald Cummings someone must have kidnapped his daughter.

A massive search led to nothing. While investigators have said that Croslin had “inconsistencies” in her story about the events of that evening, she has denied having anything to do with the 5-year-old’s disappearance.

Croslin is currently serving a 25-year sentence for drug trafficking and is not expected to be released from prison until 2031. HaLeigh’s father is also in prison for a drug conviction but will be released next year. His mother, Neves, said he loves HaLeigh and intends to resume the search for her when he is released.

The former investigators I spoke with two years ago told me they believe HaLeigh died the night she was reported missing and said “Misty Croslin holds the key to finding her”. They have two theories about what happened to HaLeigh. To hear from them in their own words, click here to listen to our podcast, HaLeigh Cummings: Into Thin Air.

If you have any information about what happened to HaLeigh or about her whereabouts, call Northeast Florida Crime Stoppers at 1-888-277-8477.

Photos provided by HaLeigh Cummings' family

About the Author:

Jennifer, who anchors The Morning Shows and is part of the I-TEAM, loves working in her hometown of Jacksonville.