3 years ago: Haleigh Cummings disappears

Putnam County investigators now consider this a homicide case

PUTNAM COUNTY, Fla. - Five-year-old Haleigh Cummings went to bed Feb. 9, 2009, in her dad's mobile home in Satsuma. Her father, Ronald Cummings, was working a night shift, so the last person to see the girl that night was his 17-year-old girlfriend, Misty Croslin.

The next morning, Croslin told Putnam County investigators she woke up to find the back door propped open and Haleigh gone.

An Amber Alert was issued and a massive search began. On the ground, from the air, with dogs, by horseback and in the water, the entire community came together to help. Ponds were searched and one was even drained.

The family held nightly vigils. Haleigh's story made national news, with the family's tearful pleas for Haleigh to come home.

Over the course of days and weeks, search efforts gave way to investigation.

Girlfriend becomes Haleigh's step-mother

From the very beginning, investigators focused on Croslin, questioning her several times about what happened that night. Cummings stood beside her and went on to marry her several weeks into the search for Haleigh. As newlyweds, Ronald and Misty Cummings appeared on NBC's "Today" show, where she still couldn't explain her inconsistent stories.

The marriage didn't last long. The two got divorced after five months. The focus of the investigation zeroed in on Haleigh's family.

Less than a year after Haleigh disappeared, Ronald Cummings, his now ex-wife Misty Croslin, her brother Hank Croslin Jr., and two other people were arrested -- caught on hidden camera selling oxycodone and other drugs to undercover officers.

From jail, Misty Croslin continued to deny knowing anything about Haleigh's disappearance, but her brother told authorities she knows more than she was saying.

Search for remains

In April 2010, the investigation took a dramatic turn when investigators checked out what they considered a credible tip when Misty Croslin, in jail fatigues and handcuffs, led police to the St. Johns River. For nearly two days, investigators searched the river bottom.

While the search didn't turn up any sign of Haleigh, police admitted they no longer believed the little girl was alive.

"We now believe this is a homicide investigation," Putnam County Sheriff Jeff Hardy said.

Another name that surfaced in the investigation was that of Misty Croslin's cousin, Joe Overstreet, who was believed to be with her the night Haleigh disappeared. Misty and Hank Croslin's lawyers both told investigators Overstreet kidnapped Haleigh, but his lawyer denied he had any involvement.

Putnam County detectives traveled to Tennessee to question him and came home with no answers.

Dead ends and frustration

On the second anniversary of the disappearance, the Putnam County 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.

One year later, investigators say the case is still open. They said that between Feb. 1, 2011 and this past Monday, the Sheriff's Office has received 168 Crime Stoppers tips regarding the Haleigh Cummings investigation. Every tip has been reviewed and acted on by investigators, the sheriff said in a news release.

"Sheriff Hardy wants to assure the public, but mainly Haleigh's family, that investigators will continue to aggressively pursue this case to the end," the news release reads.

Both of Haleigh's grandmothers and other family continue to observe her birthdays and hold out hope the girl is alive somewhere. The family will hold a vigil Friday night.

Haleigh's grandmother Teresa Neves said that not knowing what happened to Haleigh has really taken its toll on the family, especially her three other grandchildren.

"My grandchildren, they suffer from this," she said. "My grandson is afraid to go outside. ... They've all been affected. They were so young. And he's just a couple of years older than Haleigh."

"I don't know when, just know one day she will come home to me," Neves said.

Haleigh's mother, Crystal Sheffield, said she doesn't believe investigators were searching the St. Johns River for Haleigh's remains in 2010 based on information she said she knows and is unable to share. The last thing the family wants to do is jeopardize the investigation. They say the focus has to remain on bringing Haleigh home.

"Just bring her home and let her know we are right here waiting for her," Sheffield said.

"I would just beg them, please, I don't care what it is or how small it is, tell us something that will bring Haleigh home. All we need is just something, something to go on," Neves said.

Anyone with any information on her disappearance is asked to contact the Putnam County Sheriff's Office at 386-329-0808 or Crime Stoppers at 888-277-TIPS.

Copyright 2012 by News4Jax.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.