It’s been almost two weeks since the family of Barbara Ann Jenkins has seen her, including the 10-year-old son she walked to the bus stop and told to “have a good day” before she disappeared.
The 44-year-old mother has been missing since early on the morning of Aug. 29, and family members are worried because they said she had become more and more distant and withdrawn before she walked out the door with her son and never came back.
“I remember Wednesday night she told me, ‘If I’m not here, make sure he gets off to school,’” said Jenkin’s mother, Omie Jenkins, who had her daughter and grandson staying in her South Sumter Street home. “I don’t know if she was planning something or what.”
Investigators with the Sumter Police Department have canvassed the neighborhood and spoke to witnesses who think they’ve seen Jenkins still walking around the area in the days since. Police even reviewed security footage at a convenience store on McCrays Mill Road after a clerk thought she sold Jenkins a coke a full week after she was last seen at home.
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Detective Mark Moses said these statements give him hope Barbara Jenkins is still moving around the South Sumter area.
“I believe they’re credible, because they’ve given the same description of what she had on and describe similar behavior,” Moses said, describing the woman seen by witnesses as appearing “disoriented.”
On Friday and again Tuesday, detectives took ATVs through a wooded area searching for clues, and earlier Tuesday police took a Department of Natural Resources plane up in the air, searching an area from McCrays Mill Road to Industrial Road.
“You hope in these situations that the person has, for whatever reason, just decided they don’t want to come home,” said Sgt. Billy Lyons, who was out Tuesday with the search party.
Family members said Jenkins walked into the early morning light with her son to make sure he got on the bus shortly after 6 that Thursday morning. The mother and child walked from the home across a vacant lot to reach an elementary school bus stop on the other side of the block. After the bus pulled off, a neighbor told Omie Jenkins her daughter stayed in the street for a moment and seemed confused before she headed back across the lot toward home.
But for whatever reason, she never went back inside. Her mother and brother haven’t seen her since.
By all accounts, Barbara Jenkins has had a rough year. First she lost her job at a paper mill in Eastover. Then she lost her apartment, forcing her and her youngest son to stay with her mother. Then her truck was repossessed. The accumulation of trouble took its toll, family members said.
“She was very happy,” Omie Jenkins said, “but after a while she wouldn’t talk to anybody.”
“She got into it with her sister, and after that she wouldn’t talk to her,” said Ereike Jenkins, Barbara Jenkins’ brother. “Then she wouldn’t talk to her (mother). I was the only one she would still talk to, and then she stopped talking to me.”
After she lost her truck, Jenkins started walking for long hours around her southside neighborhood, wandering farther and farther away from home.
“She goes out all day, all over,” her brother said. “People would see her out on (U.S.) 15, (U.S.) 378, close to the country.”
Jenkins told her daughter she was concerned because she started coming home late in the evening.
“I told her it’s not safe to be out just walking,” Jenkins said, “but she would just say ‘God’s in charge.’”
The night before she disappeared, Barbara Jenkins reportedly came home later than usual, about 8:30 p.m. Omie Jenkins said her lip looked swollen, but her daughter refused to say what had happened. Her cryptic comment about getting her son off to school was the last thing she said to her mother.
After she didn’t come home, family members began calling around trying to locate her, even checking to see if she was in the hospital or jail, without luck.
Despite her behavior leading up to the disappearance, family members said Jenkins has never been out of contact for this long and don’t think she would choose to abandon her son, who like the rest of the Jenkins family has grown concerned.
“He would listen for her to come in through the back door until he fell asleep,” Omie Jenkins said. “Then in the morning he asked if she had come back yet.”
In addition to her youngest son, Barbara Jenkins has two adult sons, ages 20 and 23.
In the meantime, the Jenkins family is leaning on their church community at Greater St. Paul Church to help them through these trying times.
“We’re continuing to pray and hoping she’ll just come home,” Omie Jenkins said. “I don’t think she would walk out on her baby, because that’s her heart.”
Barbara Ann Jenkins is described as a black female, standing 5-feet-4-inches tall and weighing 170 pounds. She was last seen wearing black jeans and a black shirt and was known to frequent the Oakland, Council and Dingle street areas. Anyone who thinks they might have seen Jenkins or have knowledge of her whereabouts is asked to call the Sumter Police Department at (803) 436-2717 or Crime Stoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC (274-6372).