Woman clings to hope she'll find missing grandson

Six months into the search for her missing grandson, Jocelyn Jennings Nelson hasn't lost hope for the future: She always makes sure to keep his favorite food, avocado, on hand for his eventual return.

There are big milestones looming in the South Carolina grandmother's life. Her grandson Amir, who hasn't been seen since Thanksgiving, turns 2 later this month. Her daughter Zinah Jennings, jailed on charges related to her young son's disappearance, must prepare for trial.

And, at the end of this summer, Nelson will become a grandmother for the second time to a child she hopes can grow up alongside big brother Amir.

Nelson has patiently — and mostly silently — kept vigil since early December, when she reported both Amir and his mother missing after fielding evasive answers from her daughter as to the boy's whereabouts. Based on Jennings' vows to police that she'd left the boy with relatives and friends, authorities combed cities from Atlanta to Charlotte, N.C., but found nothing.

Jennings was charged with unlawful conduct toward a child for not giving authorities a straight answer about where Amir was, only assuring them the boy was safe. Officers say they still field tips and have offered rewards for information, but their on-the-ground work has faded from view as prosecutors prepare for trial.

Six months later, the little boy described by his grandmother as a lover of stories and cartoons is still missing. His headstrong, 23-year-old mother is still in jail as her attorney fights to drop the charges , refusing to give details to her mother, authorities or even her own lawyer about where she left Amir and with whom.

Confident her daughter can take care of herself, Nelson said she is focused on searching for Amir — and readying to take care of him once he returns home.

"By now, he has all of his teeth," Nelson said recently, a smile spreading across her face.

On June 28, that little boy with the newly toothy grin turns 2, a special day Nelson is marking in her own way. Taking a cake, balloons and pictures over the weekend to a Columbia-area flea market she frequents, Nelson hoped to energize the public into keeping their eyes open for any information that might bring Amir home.

"I want to encourage the public to keep looking," Nelson said. "We have not exhausted every avenue."

As she wrestles with Amir's disappearance and her daughter's incarceration, Nelson is also getting ready to welcome a second grandchild. Jennings is pregnant, due to give birth later this year, and while she doesn't know the gender, Nelson says friends have already reached out with donated goods and clothes.

Even if Jennings is released from jail, Nelson said she feels that her daughter — who has struggled with depression and is currently taking court-ordered medication for schizophrenia — should be committed to a facility for treatment. Whatever the outcome of Jennings' case, Nelson said she is focusing now on this new grandchild — one she hopes will grow up alongside big brother Amir.

"I am preparing to be a grandmother again, and all of my plans for my future include both of my grandkids," says Nelson. "I plan to step forward. ... Amir will have something growing up that Zinah didn't have, and that's a sibling."


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