By Art Harris, (c), www.artharris.com., all rights reserved
In what could set a legal precedent for missing children, The Bald Truth has learned exclusively that the mother of five year old Haleigh Cummings aims to fight for legal custody of a daughter abducted a month ago from her father’s home while he was at work and his 17 year old girlfriend slept nearby.
In an exclusive interview, Crystal Sheffield, 23, tells me she also wants custody of her son and Haleigh’s little brother, a four year old she had with Ronald Cummings, 25.
The boy, “Junior,” as he’s called, reportedly told police he saw a man dressed in black snatch his sister off her mattress in the pre-dawn darkness Feb. 10 as she slept in the living room of their father’s trailer in Palatka, Florida.
“We think she’d be the better parent, so we’ll be exploring how (Ronald Cummings) got custody in the first place, whether it was proper. We already have one child missing from his care, and he’s about to marry the 17 year old (Misty Croslin), who was home babysitting her and his son,” says Sheffield’s lawyer, Kim L. Picazio, a family law expert from Broward County who has been interviewing locals by phone and is expected to arrive in Putman Count on Thursday.
“From what I’ve gleaned from investigators, news reports and interviews with local witnesses and the mother’s family, I have grave concerns for the welfare of Haleigh’s little brother, Junior. When I get down there Thursday, I’ll be investigating if there’s any type move the mother needs to make to protect the last child that remains in the father’s custody.”
Picazio is also bringing in a crack private investigator, William Staubs, 52, a gravel-voiced tough guy who weighs 250 pounds and goes by the nickname Cobra. He’ll be hunting witnesses, says Picazio, “who may not want to tell everything to a police officer, but may tell me things that could lead to finding Haleigh through a private effort.”
At a press conference Tuesday, a new reward of $35,000 was announced. Dozens of state, local and federal law enforcement remained tight-lipped, as both parents plead for Haleigh’s safe return.
Family members scribbled messages in black magic marker on yellow helium filled balloons they soon released.
“Haleigh-bug, Nana misses you very much. Please release my Doodle,” wrote Crystal’s mother.
“Misty and Daddy got married, just like you wanted,” wrote Haleigh’s father. “We love you.”
At the Putman County courthouse Monday, Ronald and Misty applied for a marriage license; on Tuesday, she was brandishing a new diamond ring for the cameras.
Croslin said that her engagement may be misunderstood by some people, but “it’s still all about finding Haleigh. This is what Haleigh wanted. She’s always talked about it.”
Croslin also claims Haleigh called her “mom.” According to reports, the bizarre lovebirds could tie the knot as early as this week. With Misty a minor, her family had to fill out paperwork granting her the okay to marry.
On the 911 tape of Misty’s initial call to police last month to report Haleigh missing, Ronald can be heard cursing his new fiance in the background, and threatening to kill whoever took her. But they’ve apparently made up.
“He’s getting married 30 days after Haleigh goes missing, that says it all,” Crystal tells me in an exclusive interview, adding that she has postponed her plans to marry an electrician named Chad, but will keep paying for the wedding dress she has on layaway.
“With Haleigh missing, getting married is the last thing on my mind. I can’t sleep. I lay down at night, but I don’t sleep. I try to rest, but I can’t. It’s bad when your baby is gone.”
Crystal says she spent much of Tuesday in tears, telling me how she paid a private visit to Ronald’s trailer home where Haleigh spent her last night. Police found the back door propped open by a brick, and Misty says she has no idea how that happened, and didn’t hear a thing. Investigators have been running down leads and tips with the help of the FBI.
On Tuesday, Crystal surveyed the living room of her ex-boyfriend’s trailer, the purported crime scene, as police held TV cameras back to give her privacy; then Haleigh’s distraught mother threw herself onto the mattress the five year old used as a bed, and burst into tears.
Outside, friends could hear her screaming, hysterical, inconsolable. It was a heart-breaking scene, one told me.
Misty was with her, pleading with Crystal to believe her when she said she had no idea how her baby vanished, or who was behind it. Crystal asked for a toy, or some momento of Haleigh to take with her; it was fine with Misty, but she said she’d have to ask Ronald first. Crystal left empty-handed.
Later, she told me she’d cried herself out, but “it didn’t help much.”
Both Misty and Ronald claim they passed lie detector tests, though police sources won’t confirm nor deny it.
Victim’s advocate Wayanne Kruger, an author who’s daughter pressed charges against a godfather who’d molested her as a child, flew in from California to volunteer, and donated proceeds from a book signing to help Crystal stay afloat.
In the meantime, Kim Picazio, the new lawyer and mother of three, says she aims to organize a command post for volunteers and start printing bumper stickers, pins and t shirts to raise awareness about what police are calling an abduction.
Authorities are still searching for Haleigh. She has blond hair and brown eyes and is 3 feet tall.
Please call the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office at 386-329-0800 if you have any information regarding Haleigh Cummings.