Officers call off search for missing toddler, find nothing

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH/AP) -- Officers called off an afternoon search for a Columbia toddler missing since Thanksgiving after finding nothing significant.

For nearly six hours Thursday, dozens of officers from several agenices searched a roughly 8.5-mile wooded area near a small rural church in the Monticello Road area looking for 18-month-old Amir Jennings. The search was called off around 3 p.m.

Authorities say they were acting on what they term "credible information," adding it did not come from the boy's mother, Zinah Jennings, who is being held on $150,000 bond after Columbia investigators say she lied to them several times about the toddler's whereabouts.

The tip that lead investigators to that wooded area was the first new piece of information police received for several weeks.

"Any information that comes in we're going to follow up on," said Columbia police spokeswoman Jennifer Timmons. "This is one piece that we've received and we will continue to look for him until he's found."

Amir Jennings' grandmother, Jocelyn, reported the boy missing December 8. In early January she appealed to the public for information in the case.

Officers from the FBI, State Law Enforcement Division, Richland County Sheriff's Department, Columbia Police Department and the Columbia-Richland Fire Department, some of them using K-9 deputies and cadaver dogs, conducted the search.

Authorities say they have no reason to search the area again.

Thursday's search isn't the only development in the case. In a legal motion filed earlier this week, Jennings' attorney says his client is pregnant and should be released from jail.

According to court papers filed Wednesday, Hemphill Pride II says Zinah Jennings needs pre-natal care. Pride says he has known about the pregnancy for a week.

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Pride says a doctor who examined Jennings says she is mentally ill.

On January 11, Michael J. Ferlauto, M.D., was directed to examine the 22-year-old by the Richland County Probate Court.

Records indicate that Ferlauto wrote in a report that Jennings "is mentally ill, needs involuntary treatment and because of this mental illness...lacks sufficient insight or capacity to make responsible decisions with respect to his/her treatment."

Pride says Jennings has been ordered to have treatment for a year and has been ordered to take Risperdal, used to treat symptoms of schizophrenia. Zinah Jennings is currently being held at a Columbia-area psychiatric facility.

The Columbia attorney also argues that Jennings should be allowed to wear "civilian clothing" during court hearings. He contends that because Jennings was shown in inmate clothing in prior media coverage it impedes her right to a fair and impartial trial.

Despite finding nothing during Thursday's search, Columbia police say the investigation into Amir Jennings' disappearance will continue. They hope the public will contact them with any information about the case.

"We cannot assume anything at this point during this criminal investigation," said Timmons. "We are still hopeful and we are not going to let go of hope until we find Amir jJennings."

Investigators urge people with any details about the boy's disappearance to the call CrimeStoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC. Tips can remain anonymous. Earlier this month, a $10,000 reward was offered for information in the case.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Where is Amir Jennings?

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