South Carolina authorities search for missing toddler

South Carolina authorities search a wooded area Thursday for missing toddler Amir Jennings, who vanished in November.

Story highlights

  • Police get a "credible tip" on Amir Jennings' whereabouts, a police chief says
  • The toddler boy was not found by searchers on Thursday
  • His mother's lawyer files a motion saying she's pregnant and mentally ill
  • She is currently in custody on charges of child cruelty
Authorities in South Carolina searched intently Thursday for a missing toddler who was last seen nearly two months ago, and whose pregnant mother has been charged with cruelty toward a child.
Columbia police Chief Randy Scott told Vinnie Politan, of CNN's sister network HLN, that law enforcement launched their search for Amir Jennings after receiving what they considered "a credible tip."
Officers from multiple agencies -- including the FBI, Richland County Sheriff's Department, Columbia-Richland Fire Department and Columbia police -- scoured an 8-square-mile area near a small rural church, said Jennifer Timmons, a spokeswoman for Columbia police.
"We were able to go to the area to do a grid search," said Scott. "... And fortunately, it did not turn up anything."
Amir Jennings was 17 months old when he was last seen with his mother, Zinah D. Jennings, 22, around Thanksgiving, police said.
Family members became concerned when they could not contact Jennings or the child, and a missing-person report was filed in early December, police have said.
On Christmas Eve, police said, Jennings had a car accident and the responding officer recognized her name.
The officer repeatedly asked Jennings where her child was, and she allegedly gave "false and inconsistent information," police said. A warrant was issued on December 29.
According to a police report, the mother made "cryptic" phone calls to family members, indicating her ongoing fight with depression was continuing.
This week, Zinah Jennings' attorney Hemphill Pride II filed a motion asking for the court to consider a reduction of the $150,000 bond. The lawyer said in the motion that his client "emphatically denies she is guilty" of the cruelty to children charges and that she is not a flight risk.
The motion cites a court-ordered report from Dr. Michael Ferlauto that claims Zinah Jennings is "mentally ill" and lacks the "insight or capacity to make responsible decisions with respect to his/her treatment."
Also, according to the motion, Zinah Jennings is pregnant.
"It's shocking, disappointing," Scott said of the case. "Right now, she's not even giving law enforcement anything on her son, her precious son that is missing at this time. And she is expecting again."
Earlier this month, Pride indicated Zinah Jennings may be "rebellious" because of her relatively young age.