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Officials call off search for missing SC toddler

Authorities have called off a search in central South Carolina for a toddler who has been missing since Thanksgiving.

Dozens of federal, state and local police officers scoured an eight-mile radius for more than four hours Thursday, looking for Amir Jennings.

The boy's mother, 22-year-old Zinah Jennings, has been held in jail since late December. Columbia police have accused her of lying about Amir's whereabouts.

Police said they received a tip to search the area near a small church in Richland County. Zinah Jennings' attorney says his client is not speaking to police and is on psychiatric medication.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

The mother of a South Carolina toddler missing since Thanksgiving is pregnant and mentally ill and should be released from jail because she needs medical care, the woman's attorney argued in court papers filed this week.

Hemphill Pride II said in the motions filed Tuesday in Columbia that Zinah Jennings has been ordered to have treatment for her mental illness for a year and has been told to take Risperdal, which is used to treat symptoms of schizophrenia. He also said she needs prenatal care.

On Thursday afternoon, federal, state and local police were searching a county in the central part of the state for the toddler. Columbia police spokeswoman Jennifer Timmons said officers were scouring an 8-mile radius near a small rural church in Richland County.

Jennings, 22, has been in jail since late December, when Columbia police say they arrested her for lying about the whereabouts of her son, Amir.

Her mother had reported Jennings missing several weeks earlier, telling police she thought her daughter and grandson were in Atlanta but that she was receiving evasive answers when she asked about Amir. He was 18 months old when he disappeared.

Speaking to police after a Christmas Eve car wreck, Jennings first said she didn't have children and then said her son was with relatives and friends in cities from Atlanta to Charlotte, N.C.

Investigators say they chased down Jennings' stories but met with several dead ends before arresting her. Authorities said they hope a tip line and $10,000 reward will yield information, and state police are analyzing stains on blankets and clothes removed from Jennings' car to see if they are blood.

Her half-sister who reported her missing told police that she had left her home and suffered from "schizophrenic tendencies" that had not been diagnosed.

Jocelyn Jennings Nelson has said her headstrong daughter frequently traveled to visit relatives and friends in the Carolinas and Georgia andt had been depressed since the birth of her son. Nelson said she reported Jennings and the boy missing last month after becoming concerned during their visit to Atlanta.

Jennings was arrested on prostitution and drug charges in Georgia shortly before her son disappeared, accused of offering sex to an undercover officer. Jennings had been staying with a half-sister in the Atlanta area for three weeks before her Nov. 9 arrest.

On the day Zinah Jennings was arrested, her half-sister reported her missing, telling police that she had left her home and suffered from "schizophrenic tendencies" that had not been diagnosed. The grandmother has said her headstrong daughter frequently traveled to visit relatives and friends in the Carolinas and Georgia but had been depressed since the birth of her son.

In his motion, Pride cites a doctor who has examined Jennings and says she "lacks sufficient insight or capacity to make responsible decisions" about her treatment.

In a separate motion, Pride asks a judge to allow his client to wear street clothes during hearings because of intense media attention on her case. In a previous appearance, Jennings wore an orange jail jumpsuit and handcuffs.

A hearing in the case is scheduled for Monday.

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Online:

SC Crimestoppers: http://www.sccrimestoppers.com

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Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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