Image: Haleigh Cummings
AP
Haleigh Cummings vanished from her home Tuesday night.
updated 2/12/2009 3:37:17 PM ET 2009-02-12T20:37:17

Investigators were treating the disappearance of a 5-year-old north Florida girl as an abduction and continued searching for the child Thursday.

The Putnam County Sheriff’s Office said investigators assume Haleigh Cummings was abducted because house-to-house searches of the neighborhood Wednesday found no evidence that she wandered away.

Haleigh’s father, Ronald Cummings, he didn’t believe she had left their home in the middle of the night.

“I know somebody took her. I know for a fact she didn’t wander off — she’s afraid of the dark,” Cummings told NBC’s “Today” on Thursday.

Haleigh’s mother, Crystal Sheffield, also believes someone took her daughter.

“I just want my baby here. I just want them to bring back my baby,” she said as tears ran down her cheeks, her eyes red from crying.

Door propped open
Haleigh was last seen Monday night in her father’s mobile home in a heavily wooded area north of Satsuma, a community along the St. Johns River about 70 miles north of Orlando. The blue doublewide mobile home with a screened-in front porch was blocked off with police tape Thursday.

Video: Father pleads for return of 5-year-old

Nearby, a team of about 30 police officers and sheriff’s deputies walked shoulder-to-shoulder through the thick underbrush and palmettos near the family home. Each carried a machete to clear away the brush. At times, they would stop and use a shovel to check when they found fresh dirt.

Haleigh was reported missing when her father returned home from work early Tuesday. His girlfriend said she had woken up and discovered the child was missing.

The girlfriend, 17-year-old Misty Croslin, told a 911 dispatcher that a back door that was usually locked had been propped open by a brick.

Sheriff Jeff Hardy told NBC’s “Today” that searches for Haleigh by air, ground and water would continue Thursday. Investigators also were interviewing the 44 sex offenders living within 5 miles of Ronald Cummings’ home.

Agency 'involved' with family
John Harrell, spokesman for the northeast region of the Florida Department of Children and Families, said Thursday that his agency “was involved with the family.” Harrell would not offer any details, citing state confidentiality laws.

Sheffield’s family gathered at the mobile home community where the child disappeared.

Haleigh’s grandmother, Nancy Griffis, 43, described the girl as a “highly intelligent” child who loved to play with makeup, purses, cell phones and “girlie stuff.”

An uncle, Andrew Sheffield, said he believed she is still alive, but the mystery of her whereabouts continues.

“It’s fishy,” he said. “Somebody knows something.”

George Anthony, the grandfather of slain Florida toddler Caylee Anthony, met with Haleigh’s father Thursday. Anthony said he was there to offer moral support.

More on Florida

The Associated Press and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.

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