Somer Thompson is mourned; Haleigh Cummings is still missing

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Normal Somer Thompson is mourned; Haleigh Cummings is still missing

Post by Wrapitup on Fri Oct 30, 2009 8:08 pm

Somer Thompson is mourned; Haleigh Cummings is still missing
The cases of two missing children in Florida have key differences.

ORANGE PARK - Across the street from where 7-year-old Somer Thompson lived in suburban Orange Park, a memorial grows in the shade of an old oak tree.

Friends, family and strangers leave candles, flowers, prayer cards, teddy bears, balloons and short, hopeful notes: "You're OK now. God got U Baby" and "You are my Sunshine" and "Justice for Somer."

Profound sadness surrounds the place but so does a certain sense of closure: Somer Thompson lived here. She is gone now. Somebody did a horrible thing to her, but many others loved this girl.

Fifty miles south in rural Satsuma, there is no closure.

In February, 5-year-old Haleigh Cummings' disappearance captured national attention. Now a billboard along U.S. 17 flashes Haleigh's face every few seconds at drivers passing through town and provides a number to call with tips.

But unlike Somer, whose body was discovered in a Georgia landfill two days after she disappeared, Haleigh has never been found.

Missing-children's experts involved in both cases say the cooperation of Somer's family and her community coupled with some creative and aggressive detective work by the Clay County Sheriff's Office led to the girl's discovery.

At the same time, some say inconsistencies in the story told by the last person believed to have seen Haleigh late Feb. 9, has thwarted the efforts of investigators with the Putnam County Sheriff's Office.

It's been the difference, they say, between one little girl being found and put to rest near her home and a series of fruitless searches through woods, lakes and fields that have turned up no body after nearly nine months.

"In Clay County, they said, 'You know, we've got a little girl missing. Let's go to work,'" said Tim Miller, founder of Texas EquuSearch, who is familiar with both cases. "They've got a family that's being honest. They've got a community that's being honest. They got right in on it and they just did a tremendous job."

On Tuesday, Somer was buried at the Jacksonville Memory Gardens near her home. The discovery of her body has the community frightened, but also confident her killer will be found.

But in Haleigh's case, Miller said investigators still are not sure exactly when the child disappeared. Initially, they thought the child had been abducted from her father Ronald Cummings' double-wide in Satsuma.

By mid August, about the time Haleigh would have turned 6, they were publicly expressing doubt that a stranger had taken Haleigh. And investigators noted that his then-girlfriend Misty Croslin-Cummings "continues to hold important answers in the case."

Tests have shown Misty Cummings to be deceptive when answering questions about Haleigh's disappearance.

"From very, very early on, we stated publicly there were inconsistencies in Misty's story about what happened that evening," said Putnam Sheriff's Deputy Hancel Woods, adding that investigators continue to work the case daily as they've handled nearly 6,000 tips.

While praising the team investigating Somer's case in neighboring Clay County, Woods said the two cases have many differences and nothing at this point suggests they might be related. "Obviously there are similarities drawn due to geographic proximity and the girls' ages, but each case stands on its own," Woods said.

While Clay County detectives have received widespread praise for finding Somer so soon, experts say Putnam County officials have done their job well too.

"Putnam County [investigators] did everything right," Miller said this week. "Unfortunately they didn't have a damn thing to work with . . . We don't know positively for sure that the girl [Haleigh] was in the house."

Miller added, "Misty Cummings holds the key and Misty Cummings can bring an end to this in the next 15 minutes."

Investigators working on the Somer Thompson case didn't have the frustration of dealing with someone being disingenuous; they had the pressure of time slipping away with each hour Somer was missing.

But they were prepared. Several months earlier they had trained for just such a scenario, a child who went missing after school.

They had started searching Somer's neighborhood quickly, including the trash coming out of the Grove Park neighborhood where the girl was last seen walking home from school early last week, according Clay County Sheriff Rick Beseler.

But one detective, Bruce Owens, came to work early the morning after Somer was reported missing and noticed "Dumpsters were being picked up" in the neighborhood, Beseler said. "Bruce said to me that morning, 'We need to get on those Dumpsters,'" Beseler said. "I said, 'I want a deputy on every garbage truck.'"

Orange Park's trash is brought to a local transfer station before being hauled up to a Georgia landfill, where the child was found.

If Beseler's team had not tracked the trucks -- and their contents -- as soon as they did, he said it would have been much harder, perhaps impossible, to ever find Somer and valuable evidence.

"She might have been under too much debris," he said. "In any abduction murder case your crime scene is wherever the body is found. Time and the elements cause degradation of any forensic value."

Beseler, who is still awaiting forensic testing done in the wake of Somer's discovery, added, "It has had to unnerve the person who did this that we found her body so quickly."

By late this week about 50 detectives from the sheriff's office, FBI, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the U.S. Marshal's Service were working the case.

The crucial discovery of Somer's body so soon may provide a wealth of "forensic evidence," including possible fingerprints, fibers and DNA samples, said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

"You have the ultimate evidence of the crime scene," Allen said. "While it is a tragedy and an outrage, it does provide substantial evidence for a positive ending. You've got somewhere to start."

He called the sheriff's decision to rapidly follow the trucks "brilliant" and a tactic that will likely be followed by other law enforcement agencies in the future.

Woods, in Putnam County, said investigators searched the landfill as part of Haleigh's investigation as well. Such searches are routine parts of missing child and suspected abduction cases.

"I personally was inside a Dumpster, searching that morning," said Woods. The "meticulous" landfill search came a little later, but that's because trash pick up in the area did not occur immediately after Haleigh was reported missing as it did in Somer's case, he said.

Allen emphasized that Cases like Haleigh's, in which the child is not found within days or months, should not be forgotten.

"The reality in each of these cases is: Somebody knows," Allen said. "Somebody knows where Haleigh Cummings is. It's really important that we not let the world forget."

"The key to this case is us getting that one tip, that one lead from someone who know something," Woods said.

Meanwhile, back at the memorial for Somer at the corner of Debarry Avenue and Horton Drive in Orange Park, Kaliyah Allen, who lives near the Thompson home but does not know the family, said the investigators working the case appear to be handling it well.

"I think they're doing the best they can without exposing too much information and hurting their case," she said. "They're building a case. Honestly, I think they're doing a good job."

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/breakingnews/orl-bk-somer-thompson-haleigh-cummings-case-103009,0,2680739,full.story

_________________
Prayers for our little HaLeigh Cummings, wherever she may be!!

Nine-tenths of wisdom is appreciation. Go find somebody’s hand and squeeze it, while there’s time.
-- Dale Dauten--

Thank you RAINE for all you ARE!! I will ALWAYS hold you in my Heart!!
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