Haleigh Cummings, the 5-year-old who vanished from her father's Florida home more than a year ago, is believed to be dead and investigators said that they've identified several people of interest.
Speaking from the edge of the St. John's River, where divers have scoured the murky waters for traces of the little girl for the past three days, Putnam County Sheriff Jeff Hardy said Thursday the case is now a homicide investigation.
"Over the past few weeks, information has been obtained by investigators that lead them to believe that Haleigh Cummings is most likely deceased," Hardy told reporters.
Haleigh disappeared Feb. 10, 2009, when she vanished from the home of her father, Ronald Cummings, in Satsuma. Satsuma is 60 miles south of Jacksonville.
And for the first time since Haleigh disappeared, investigators say they've identified "several" people of interest, whom they did not name.
"People are starting to cooperate, that's why I've told people it will be just a matter of time [before the case is closed]," Hardy said. "It's a good thing, that people are starting to talk."
Asked by reporters how important Misty Croslin, the last person to have seen Haleigh, is to the investigation, Hardy said that she is "key to the case."
Speaking about Croslin, who was taken earlier this week by investigators to the dock where they have been searching for Haleigh, Hardy said that he has seen an "absolute shift in her demeanor."
Croslin is in jail pending a hearing on unrelated drug charges to which she has pleaded not guilty.
"They have a lot of time to sit and think about the case," Hardy said of how he thinks the time behind bars for Croslin may have helped the investigation.
Hardy declined to specify what evidence investigators retrieved from the river, but said that while the search has been like "looking for a needle in a haystack," he is determined to bring the case to a conclusion.
"It's a rough search, we've found everything from alligator toenails to, well, you name it," Hardy said. "We will follow this case till the end.
"We're trying to make an arrest and bring someone to justice for this little girl and her family," Hardy said, holding up a photo of the curly, blond-haired Haleigh.
Members of Haleigh's family have pointed fingers at Croslin's cousin, Joe Overstreet, who was in Florida visiting the little girl and her family when she first went missing.
Croslin's grandmother, Flo Hollars, told the Florida Times-Union that one of her sons said he knows Overstreet took Haleigh at knifepoint on that February night, which Overstreet of Nashville, Tenn., has denied.
Hollars said Croslin's brother, Hank "Tommy" Croslin Jr., who is also in jail on unrelated drug charges, told her that Overstreet, "Took Haleigh out of the Satsuma trailer where she lived after he was unable to find a machine gun the two men were going to steal. Overstreet put a knife to the throat of Misty Croslin, then Haleigh's father's girlfriend, and took Haleigh."
In an interview with the media Thursday in Nashville, Overstreet, 20, broke into tears when he was asked about any possible connection to Haleigh's disappearance.
"If I knew who did it, I would go straight and call the cops and tell them who did it," said Overstreet, according to ABC News' Nashville affiliate WKRN.
His attorney, Shawn Sirgo, said his client is being targeted by family members.