SC missing boy's mom told cops she had no children

January 6, 2012 - 11:34 AM
SC Missing Boy

In this Nov. 25, 2011 photo provided by the Columbia S.C., Police Dept., 18-month-old Amir Jennings is shown near Columbia, S.C. Investigators might have had no leads on a missing mother and child if the woman hadn't crashed her car on Christmas Eve. But even after questioning Zinah Jennings in custody, police don't know what's happened to her son. She is now in jail, charged with lying to authorities about where the boy is, prompting a search by local, state and federal authorities spanning the Carolinas, Georgia and beyond. (AP Photo/Columbia S.C., Police Dept.)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The mother of an 18-month-old South Carolina boy missing for more than a month initially told investigators she didn't have a son, then gave conflicting statements about what she did with him, authorities said.

Questioned after a Christmas Eve car wreck, Zinah Jennings told police that she did not have a son before saying the boy, Amir, was in Atlanta, according to warrants provided to The Associated Press by Columbia police.

Jennings also took investigators to a Columbia apartment complex where she said she had dropped off her son. She later said she didn't know the apartment number or location within the complex, police said.

Authorities planned a noon news conference Friday.

In early December, Amir's grandmother contacted police, saying she was worried about the boy and her daughter. Jocelyn Jennings Nelson told authorities that her daughter was a former Winthrop University student who struggled with depression and started acting erratically after her son's birth, according to Chief Randy Scott.

Police said they began looking for Jennings, 22, but 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 say Jennings gave conflicting statements about where the boy was, telling authorities the boy was with friends and family in cities from Atlanta to Charlotte, N.C.

Police spoke 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.

After several dead ends, the mother was arrested Dec. 29 and charged with lying to police about her son's whereabouts. Authorities say they have stepped up their efforts to find the boy and are hoping a tip line will yield some information.

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.

Jennings is being held in Richland County jail on $150,000 bond. Police have said they don't know if she has an attorney.

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Online:

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

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