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Detective: Haleigh's Disappearance Considered Abduction

One day after 5-year-old Haleigh Cummings disappeared from the bedroom of her Satsuma home, officials say they're focusing more on the investigation and less on the search.
/ Source: WJXT-TV

One day after a 5-year-old girl disappeared from the bedroom of her Satsuma home, Putnam County authorities said they are now treating the case as an abduction.

The active search for Haleigh Ann-Marie Cummings was scaled back Wednesday morning as Putnam County deputies, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI focused on the investigation into what happened to the girl, according to lead Detective John Merchant.

"The evidence that it's an abduction is that there's no reason to believe that the child wandered off," PCSO Maj. Gary Bowling said in briefing Wednesday afternoon. "She's a 5-year-old child and she's afraid of the dark."

Haleigh was last seen at 10 p.m. Monday in bed at her home in the Hermet's Cove mobile home park where she lived with her father, his 17-year-old girlfriend and her 2-year-old brother.

Investigators were told the last person to see Haleigh was her father's girlfriend, Misty Croslin, who told investigators that she saw the girl in her bed at 10 p.m. Monday. She told police Tuesday that when she awoke at 3 a.m. to use the bathroom, Haleigh was missing and the back door of the home was open.

Channel 4 was told that that Croslin was interviewed for a second time at midday Wednesday, but authorities said Croslin -- and everyone connected with the family -- was cooperating with authorities.

"She's a 17-year-old child herself and so ... we have to be very sensitive to who she is and what she is," said Bowling, volunteering that the investigation was not focused on Croslin.

"All the world's a suspect," Bowling said. "We're going to treat everybody, every family member, every associate, every neighbor as a suspect until we can eliminate them."

Haleigh's father, Ronald Cummings, told police that he came home from work at 3:30 a.m. and Croslin and their son were the only other people in the house. He is convinced his daughter was abducted.

"Somebody stole my child out of my bed. I came home from work, and my child was not there. That's it. That's all there was to it," Haleigh's father said. "Gone -- just like that."

Putnam County investigators, joined by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the FBI and officers from surrounding counties, searched for Haleigh on the ground, in the air and from boats until nightfall on Tuesday. They went door to door in the neighborhood and stopped and searched cars leaving the area.

They said there was no sign of forced entry to the Cummings' mobile home, but they still don't know what happened to Haleigh.

Haleigh's mother, who lives in Baker County, made an emotional plea Wednesday morning for her daughter's return.

"I just want them to bring her back," Crystal Sheffield said. "I just want her home."

Sheffield's mother described the relationship between Haleigh's parents as "rocky." She said the kindergartner was scheduled to spend this weekend with her mother.

Celebrity bounty hunter Leonard Padilla, who was involved in the search for 2-year-old Caylee Anthony who when missing in Orlando last summer, arrived in Satsuma on Wednesday and offered a $25,000 reward if Haleigh is returned before midnight Saturday.

While 130 personnel from 25 agencies were involved in the search on Tuesday, Putnam authorities believe that number was down to 60 or 70 on Wednesday, including 16 members of the FBI.

While divers were scouring the nearby St. Johns River, bloodhounds and cadaver dogs were being used in the neighborhood around the Cummings' home.

The FBI was trying to contact the 44 known sexual offenders who live within five miles of the Cummings' home.

Officials said that helicopters with infrared sensing equipment would begin scanning the area after dark Wednesday and a group of volunteers would begin a new search of the area on Thursday, retracing the neighborhood in case Tuesday's search overlooked something.

Authorities said lots of tips have come in already and they continue to ask anyone with any information about Haleigh's disappearance to call the Putnam County Sheriff's Office at 386-329-0808 or the FDLE's Missing Endangered Persons Information Clearinghouse at 888-FL-MISSING.