COLUMBIA, S.C. – The grandmother of a missing 18-month-old South Carolina boy pleaded with the public Friday to help authorities find the toddler who was last seen by relatives at Thanksgiving.
Fighting back tears, Jocelyn Jennings Nelson described her grandson, Amir, as a happy child with a gap in his front teeth. She says he enjoys nursery rhymes, music and responds to "Mir Mir" and "AJ."
"My family and I are requesting your support in helping us to find his location and to bring him home," Nelson said.
Police Chief Randy Scott said officers were tracking down leads. The boy's mother, Zinah Jennings, has been jailed since police said she lied to them last week about where he son was.
Nelson reported Jennings missing in early December, saying she was worried about the boy and her daughter. The grandmother told authorities her daughter was a former Winthrop University student who struggled with depression and started acting erratically after her son's birth.
Police began looking for the 22-year-old mother but said they also considered that relatives said she had repeatedly left town for days at a time, taking her son to visit friends in neighboring states.
Several weeks later, on Christmas Eve, police investigating a one-car wreck just blocks from Jennings' home were surprised to find the driver was the young mother they'd been looking for.
Interviewed at a hospital, police said Jennings gave conflicting statements about where the boy was, first telling authorities she didn't have any children before saying Amir was with friends and family in cities from Atlanta to Charlotte, N.C.
After several dead ends, the mother was arrested Dec. 29 and charged with lying to police. Authorities say they have stepped up their efforts to find the boy and are hoping a tip line will yield some information.
Jennings also took investigators to a Columbia apartment complex where she said she had dropped off her son, later saying she didn't know the apartment number or location within the complex, according to search warrants provided to The Associated Press.
Police searched the mother's home and car this week with cadaver dogs. Search warrants show that authorities were looking for items that could contain Amir's DNA, but paperwork listing items removed from Jennings' bedroom was heavily redacted.
Scott said Friday that Jennings has continued to be unhelpful. Investigators are working on a timeline from Thanksgiving to Dec. 8, when Nelson reported her daughter missing.
As more time passes, Scott said he's worried.
"I'm fearful," Scott said. "I will tell you, I'm concerned."
Police have spoken with Amir's father, who told them he had seen the boy during Thanksgiving but generally has had little contact with him. The father was not identified by police.
Jennings is being held in Richland County jail on $150,000 bond. Police have said they don't know if she has an attorney.
On Friday, Jennings' aunt thanked people who had called in tips to authorities and made an appeal for more information.
"It may seem insignificant, but if you can remember anything else, please call the hotline and let the detectives whether that information is significant or not," Millie Houston said.