A former college student who became depressed and erratic after becoming a mother is charged with lying about where her missing 18-month-old son has been for more than a month.
Authorities said they were desperately searching for Amir Jennings after his 22-year-old mother, Zinah Jennings, told them several inconsistent stories about the boy being with relatives and friends across the south.
The mother and son were reported missing in early December, but the mother turned up after she was involved in a car accident on Christmas Eve.
Where’s Amir? The toddler’s mother Zinah Jennigs (pictured) has lied about her son’s whereabouts for over a month
Investigators said they hoped Amir Jennings was alive but they weren’t getting much help from his mother.
‘I’m trying to stay optimistic about this,’ Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott told The Associated Press Wednesday. ‘But short of being optimistic, this case bothers me.’
Mr Scott said officers hope a tip line and media exposure will lead to more information.
‘I want someone to call us and say, ‘We just saw this on the news, we have Amir, we’re sorry, we didn’t realize this was going on,” he said. ‘Her stories are so across the board that our search right now is from Charlotte to Atlanta.’
In early December, grandmother Jocelyn Jennings Nelson reported her own daughter missing, saying that she hadn’t seen her in several days and hadn’t seen her grandson since the Thanksgiving holiday.
Caught in a lie: Amir’s mother has been arrested and charged with unlawful conduct towards a child after police say she gave false and inconsistent information on the child’s whereabouts
According to an incident report, Jennings had had a car wreck several days before and had been making ‘cryptic phone calls to other family members indicating her on-going fight with depression is continuing.’
‘Until we have something more on Amir, I do not rule out foul play. And in my mind, there’s already an air of foul play, because no one will tell us where Amir is at. Foul play doesn’t have to mean that someone is deceased. Foul play is lying to police.’
-Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott
That sort of behaviour wasn’t unusual for the young mother, according to relatives, who told investigators the one-time college student had begun disappearing for days on end, with her son, since his birth.
‘The grandmother told me specifically that, when she was in school, she was a very good person, a very good student,’ said Mr Scott, adding that relatives had previously filed several missing persons reports on Jennings.
‘But once the baby was born, the conduct kind of changed.’
Jennings attended Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina, for one academic year, from fall 2007 until spring 2008, a school spokeswoman said.
Early on the morning of Christmas Eve, Jennings wrecked her Dodge Neon in a one-car accident near her house in Columbia.
Last seen: The mother and son were last seen at their relative’s house in Atlanta
Authorities learned that Jennings was reported missing and they say Jennings began giving shaky stories about her son’s whereabouts.
‘First it’s, ‘He’s with my sister in Atlanta. Oh no, I’m sorry, he’s with my friend in Charlotte,” Mr Scott said. ‘It’s all over the place. … Everything she’s telling us is just lies.’
Several days later, police again spoke with Jennings, who said her son was with a friend in Columbia, but that story was also a dead end.
After days of giving police bad information, the mother was charged December 29 with unlawful conduct toward a child and is being held on $150,000 bond.
Police have not released the name of Amir’s father.
At this point, Mr Scott said investigators have two theories.
‘It’s either A: Zinah has given Amir to someone. Or Zinah has, in some way, shape or form, harmed Amir,’ Scott said. ‘Until we have something more on Amir, I do not rule out foul play.
Wrecked: Jennings showed up in late December after she wrecked her Dodge Neon
‘And in my mind, there’s already an air of foul play, because no one will tell us where Amir is at. Foul play doesn’t have to mean that someone is deceased. Foul play is lying to police.’
Mr Scott said he’s struggling to remain optimistic that Amir will be found unharmed. He would not discuss any evidence police have collected from the mother’s home or car.
‘It’s the way this whole case is playing out,’ Mr Scott said. ‘It’s more than just that the child is missing. The mother is lying about the whereabouts of the child.’