Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Media Loves Drama, The Drama Unfolds, But Will It Help Haleigh Cummings Be Found? UPDATED

update: 3/19 revisions and additions
It is terrifying when a child goes missing and horrific that someone would harm a child, even more so when that person is someone entrusted with the child’s care. In the case of Haleigh Cummings we don't yet know what has happened to her, but below is a summary of what we do know so far.

Five weeks ago today, Tuesday, February 11, the short life of Caylee Anthony, 2, was memorialized in Orlando, Florida. Caylee gripped the hearts and attention of the world when the disturbing news was released not only that Caylee was missing, but that she had been gone for a month before the police were notified. In Caylee’s case her mother, Casey Anthony, 22, has been charged with first degree murder.

But this story isn’t about Caylee or Casey, except for the fact that just as Caylee’s memorial was getting under way in Orlando, 70 miles north in Satsuma, Florida, an Amber Alert was being issued for another little girl who was reported missing early that morning. I remember hoping when I heard that the Amber Alert was issued for 5 year old Haleigh Cummings that this case would be different from Caylee‘s case, not only with a quicker resolution but with a happy ending. That remains to be seen, and it is not looking good.

Ronald Cummings, 25, said he received a phone call from his live in girlfriend, Misty Croslin, 17, as he pulled in his driveway, when arriving home from work in the early morning hours, telling him that his daughter Haleigh was missing. A 911 call was made at about 3:30 Tuesday morning by Haleigh’s father and his girlfriend.

Croslin reported that she had put Haleigh to bed at 8 p.m. Monday along with Haleigh’s 3 year old brother Ronald Jr. and joined them in the bedroom at about 10 p.m.. There have been conflicting reports as to who was in what bed, but it appears that Haleigh was in a small bed by herself and Croslin and Jr. were in the bigger bed. When Croslin got up at approximately 3 a.m. to use the restroom she noticed the kitchen light was on and the back door was open. She returned to the bedroom and found that Haleigh was missing.

Within 1 hour of the 911 call, the FL Department of Law Enforcement activated the Child Abduction Regional Team. Searching began by over 100 officers from county, state and federal law enforcement by helicopters, bloodhounds, ATV riders and ground searchers conducted grid searches of the wooded area and boats, divers searched the nearby St. Johns River.
The FBI dispatched 16 federal agents to assist local authorities. They were trying to rule out roughly 44 sex offenders who live within a 5-mile radius of the Cummings home. Haleigh's disappearance was being treated as an abduction, according to the Putnam County Sheriff's Office. Texas Equusearch also came to Satsuma and assisted in the search. While LE worked on accounting for the whereabouts of the known sexual offenders in the area and did ground searches we learned more about Haleigh’s family.

Haleigh and her brother, known as Junior, have been in their father’s custody since Haleigh was 2 years old and Junior was about 6 months old. Haleigh’s mother Crystal Sheffield, 23, lives about 100 miles away from Satsuma. She and her family came to Satsuma to be close to the search site and wait for any word about Haleigh. They set up a camp site down the road from Ronald Cummings trailer. According to Sheffield's mother, Marie Griffis, her daughter and Cummings split up about three years ago. Crystal and Ronald had never married and while there was a custody dispute, it appeared they had worked it out. Haleigh and Junior have had visitation with their mother every other weekend.

When this story broke, many people commented that the Anthonys should take note of Haleigh’s family’s behavior. Their behavior was what you expect from a family whose child had gone missing. Not only had Haleigh’s disappearance been reported immediately, her family had cooperated with the investigation and had taken lie detector tests to assist the investigation. Haleigh’s parents and grandmothers had also made emotional pleas for whoever had Haleigh to return her and sent Haleigh messages that they love her.

After the police had accounted for the sexual offenders in the area and a six day ground search had turned up nothing, Putnam County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Rick Ryan said, that other than a couple of select areas, they were suspending the search and focusing more on the investigation and processing the 500 leads that had came in.

After two days, it was reported that 1,200 tips had poured into a Crimestoppers hot line. For the first time late Tuesday, investigators released information about one of those tips: that Haleigh's father's girlfriend, 17-year-old Misty Croslin, may not have been at home the night Haleigh disappeared. Misty denied this allegation and reported that she voluntarily went through more questioning and another lie detector test (which she said she was told she passed). It should be noted that Ronald’s family supported her wholeheartedly and said they didn’t believe she left the kids.

During the first week of the search for Haleigh, tensions seemed apparent between her mother and father‘s families. They held separate candlelight vigils each night, and there were some comments made questioning Ron and Misty’s account of Haleigh’s disappearance. Marie Griffis, Haleigh’s maternal grandmother, issued an apology to Ronald Cummings and his girlfriend, Misty Croslin, for raising suspicions with the media concerning the couple’s possible involvement in the 5-year old’s disappearance. That Saturday night both sides came together for a prayer service, putting their differences aside for the sake of Haleigh. That didn't last for long.

Tips continued to come in over the next week but for the first time since 5-year-old Haleigh Cummings disappeared nearly two weeks before, there was no official update on the investigation to the media. Even so, deputies were visible in the neighborhood as they continued to whittle through the now more than 1,600 leads they had received. Unlike the Caylee Anthony case, LE in this case have remained tight lipped. It seems as though the media attention slowed down a bit as well.

One thing that has became apparent after following this case is the media only seems to stay actively involved in a case if it has drama. While the circumstances of Haleigh’s story are much different and have a long way to go before it could be considered as bizarre as the Anthony case, the more time that passes and Haleigh isn’t found, the crazier this story seems to get. I will touch on this more later on, but it does bring to question the quality of some of the things being reported.

What seemed a promising development in this case was Misty’s revelation that she has a cousin from Tennessee named “Joe” who had “attempted to mess with her” when she was younger and had recently visited the area. . Ronald Cumming‘s mother, Teresa Neves said the cousin and Haleigh's dad, Ronald Cummings, got into a fight about a gun during that visit. She also said the cousin left town the same day Haleigh disappeared. Ronald Cummings denies that fight ever happened."There was no fight with no cousin over a gun," said Ronald Cummings. Hmmm???
Could this "Joe" have something to do with Haleigh's disappearance? The police say they have interviewed him and don't think he is involved , but they are not ruling anyone out as a suspect.

Next there was a reported sighting of a girl thought to be Haleigh, in Croslin's cousin's home state- Tennessee. The Knoxville Police department said they received a call from someone who thought they spotted Haleigh at a Carrabba's restaurant parking lot. The caller said she was with a white man and white woman and they looked like they were trying to shield the girl's face. Knoxville police responded, but never found anyone matching the description.

Can you feel the drama building ? If not, hold on….enter Geraldo Rivera. The case is coming into the third week when Rivera visits Satsuma and reports he may have turned up something alarming about this case. He claims two members of Crystal Sheffield's family told him there is a history of physical abuse with Haleigh and her family. Crystal also told Rivera that her son Junior told her that a black man dressed in black with squeaky shoes took his sister.

Rivera confronted Ronald Cummings about those allegations at the camp the Cummings family has set up near the trailer where Haleigh was last seen. When Rivera continued pressing Cummings with allegations that he hit Sheffield when she was pregnant with Haleigh, used/sold illegal drugs and told someone (allegedly Crystal’s fiancé who is also her step-brother?) he was "75 percent sure" he knew who took Haleigh, the property owners told Rivera to leave and Putnam County deputies were called. Rivera was issued a warning that he would be charged with trespassing if he returned, according to the Putnam County incident report. Ronald calls Rivera's allegations mud slinging and said this is not what is going to bring Haleigh home.

While katfishponders disagrees with the sensational approach that Geraldo Rivera took with this case, it did seem to give the national media something to talk about and therefore kept Haleigh’s case in the public eye. Go figure. Not saying that tough questions shouldn’t be asked, but Geraldo?

A development during the third week of the search for Haleigh that drew media attention was when several teams of dogs specially trained to find human remains began searching in the area around the Putnam County mobile home park where Haleigh disappeared. Three different cadaver dogs alerted on a large trash receptacle in the neighborhood and investigators began a painstaking searching of it. After about six hours of scouring through the dumpster, police said they found nothing that could be linked to the missing girl. Thank goodness! Police said they weren’t following any specific tip, just trying to be sure they had left no stone unturned.

After the confrontation with Geraldo, Ronald Cummings stayed away from the media but he did draw some attention when he had a large tattoo of Haleigh done on his leg. He said it was done as a tribute to Haleigh. His avoidance of the media didn't last for long.....
Ronald Cummings proposed to his 17 year old girlfriend (of 6 mths.) Misty and 3 days later they got married. The day after the wedding, Misty and Ronald flew to New York for an exclusive interview on the Today show. The couple said they decided to marry because it was what Haleigh wanted. Ronald also said he didn’t think people should be paying attention to what he is doing with his private life because it takes attention away from Haleigh. Well…duh? Did they really think this wouldn't draw attention, especially given the fact pictures were released to the media of the proposal and the Today show was invited to tape the wedding? Many have questioned this decision to marry, is it related to the child custody issue, wth?
During the 4th week of the search for Haleigh , the missing 5-year-old's family shared a home video of the girl with the public and the Nancy Grace show featured a tour of the trailer that allowed the public to see the physical setup of the trailer, the sleeping arrangements, location of the restrooms and the doors. It seems the families are doing whatever they can to keep Haleigh’s story out there.

Last week on HLN, Nancy Grace also featured a family law attorney, Kim Picazio, representing Crystal Sheffield. Picazio said she first took on the case pro bono to help Sheffield deal with the media. She said she then learned about some allegations about the stability and safety of Haleigh and her brother's home and hinted there may be a challenge for custody of Junior in the near future.

There has been a lot of accusations back and forth between Ronald and Crystal and I had left most of them out figuring that surely LE and Children’s Services are paying attention to this “stuff” and will address those things that have merit. At the time these accusations didn't seem to have anything to do with finding Haleigh but now that is not so clear.
Since I originally posted this entry a few days ago Ronald and his mother, and Crystal and her lawyer have made appearances on HLN slinging mud at each other to the extent this entry seems incomplete without addressing them somewhat. It was mentioned earlier in this entry that as more time passes things get crazier....they also get more confusing.
Let me explain.... about Haleigh's mother...on the one hand, over 3 years ago Crystal lost custody of her kids, according to her because she didn't know of a court date, didn't have a drivers license to take Haleigh to 12 doctor's appointments or to work, unfair treatment from the court and oh yea, admitted drug use. Coming into this case Crystal was $4,000 behind on child support payments and was charged with contempt of court the day before Haleigh went missing.
On the other hand, if Crystal does truly feel that her son is in jeopardy, and this is not just an "opportunity" to get the custody back, then she must take action. When asked by Nancy Grace, why wait until now to bring this up, Crystal says that she has reported abuse to children's services many times since she lost custody of the kids, but to no avail.
Crystal's lawyer, Kim Picazio, says there have been additional reports of abuse from the community since she arrived. Crystal has released some pictures showing bruises, etc. to an Internet reporter named Art Harris, whose site goes under the mantel The Bald Truth, that she plans to use in her custody fight. Katfishponders has some reservations about the validity of these pictures showing child abuse, but look for yourself.
Another interesting (and dramatic)twist to this case is a private investigator who has involved himself in this case. He goes by the name "Cobra". He couldn't talk about any specific leads he's working. But he says one thing is for sure, we can expect a break in Haleigh's case very soon. Cobra says he's investigating the case free of charge. And he says he will stay in Putnam County until he's confident the case is closed. No offense Cobra but at this point at katfishponders you are being given the same weight given a certain bounty hunter who rode in to save the day in Caylee's case.
About Haleigh's dad and his girlfriend.... they deny all of the allegations coming from Crystal and her attorney. There is no doubt that Ronald Cummings has a temper, during the 911 calls he was heard calling Misty his "dumb bitch girlfriend". Granted he was upset, his daughter was being reported missing while in her care. Haleigh has also missed a lot of school. It should be noted that Haleigh suffers from Turner's Syndrome, that may have something to do with her absences.
There has also been much said about inconsistencies from Misty related to the timeline of the night Haleigh disappeared. Because she is the last person to see Haleigh, LE has done over 30 hours of interviews with Misty, if they feel she has lied, they will get to the bottom of it. LE has said that Misty is key to solving Haleigh's disappearance. Art Harris also did an interview with Misty Croslin that can be seen at The Bald Truth site as well. Misty told Harris she doesn't need a lawyer.
Today the law office of Kimball & Snider has agreed to represent Ronald Cummings as a pro bono client.The release refers to Cummings as a victim in need of legal advice. Cummings' lawyers will take over responsibility for assisting Cummings with police cooperation, coordinating media attention and handling a potential custody battle with Sheffield. The news release describes Sheffield's lawyer's abuse allegations as "unsubstantiated" and said that Cummings sees the claims as a "cheap shot and publicity stunt that detracts from the search for Haleigh."
In the mean time as all of the drama unfolds we are entering the 6th week that Haleigh has been missing. According to sheriff's department spokesman Capt. Dick Schauland, "There is nothing new, really, to report. We are continuing to follow up on leads."
Where is Haleigh? Children do not just vanish! Someone knows something. Because LE are holding this investigation close to the vest we are left to wonder....are they just waiting for someone to slip up somehow?

Haleigh Cummings is described as three feet tall, 39 pounds, with blonde hair and brown eyes. Anyone with information on her whereabouts is asked to contact the Putnam County Sheriff's Office at 386-329-0808 or Crime Stoppers at 1-888-277-TIPS. There is a $35,000 reward.
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  1. your profile sounds much like me!!!! I have been following this and the Anthony story...they both break my heart. These families are full of drama and hate, and the kids are the victims. I pray that they find this child alive, but hope seems to be falling away each day that passes.

  2. Thanks for stopping by Tootsie. Come again! If you look on the right side of the page and see labels, click on Caylee Anthony to see the entries I have done on that case.(You may already know this, if so, You are right, the kids pay the price.

  3. Good read, Katfish.


  4. Thanks Sue,
    I appreciate your comment. I hope the next time I blog on Haleigh she has been found. :`(

  5. Hi! Your sister Terri sent me!
    I am so glad she did. This is my kind of blog! I follow the media very close. I got so roped in with Caylee Anthony that I met the family and handed out flyers in my area. I wish they would have found her alive. I will never forget the look in George Anthony's face as he hugged me and told me that I should never ever let my family go to bed angry. He told me to hold them close to me. He truly touched me and I hurt for him.
    Your blog is great. Although I have a serious side my blog tends to be silly half the time and once and a while my serious side pops out.
    I plan to be back often. I wish you had a followers list. Come by and visit me and sign mine if you get a chance so I have short cut to get back here.
    Nice meeting you.

  6. katfish, thanks! What a well-written and easy to follow synopsis of a crazy case. Poor baby Haleigh. Lots of drama.
    I've been saving photos from every source I can about Haleigh and group, and I have been following crime cases and mostly MP's since 2003. Completely addicted.

  7. Katfish, my hat is off to you. This was a great read. In depth and covered many different aspects of the case. Well done!

  8. ... and after all these years, we know little more about HaLeigh's whereabouts than we did back then. Has it really been almost eight years ago!