Mother of missing SC nurse seeks help solving caseUNION, S.C. (AP) — When Susie Fernandez drives, she tries to glimpse every face in passing cars. In stores, she glances at people in aisles and checkout lines. She's been doing it ever since her daughter, a nurse and devoted mother of a little boy, vanished in September.
"You try to have faith," said Fernandez, who fears her 31-year-old daughter is dead. "Not knowing what happened is just unbearable. It just consumes your life. You just have this pain in your heart that won't go away."
The sharpest pangs come from two thoughts: Fernandez said she believes she knows who is responsible for her daughter's disappearance, and she doesn't feel anybody outside her family is paying attention.
"At times, it seems like no one really cares except us," Fernandez, 47, said recently as she sat in her living room, surrounded by photos of her four children and grandson, Jamel Good Jr.
Maria Fernandez was last seen Sept. 3. Her boyfriend — the father of her son — initially told police he picked her up from work that day. But authorities say Jamel Good's story is muddled. He hasn't been charged, but Union County sheriff's investigators say Good is a "person of interest" in the disappearance and is not cooperating.
His attorney, Thomas White, disagrees.
"He's been cooperative with them. There's no evidence that links him to any kind of crime," White said.
Meanwhile, Fernandez's relatives have been frustrated by a lack of new information.
In their minds are details of how authorities handled another missing persons case in the area. When Susan Smith told police in 1994 that a man stole her car with her two children inside, a large-scale manhunt ensued. Investigators later discovered Smith had killed the boys.
"Where are all those officers now?" said Fernandez's aunt, Toni Davis, 42. "Where is the media?"
While thousands of people go missing each year, cases involving white children or attractive white women typically are the ones that attract media attention. Experts say it takes a passionate advocate to bring attention to a case involving a black person, such as Fernandez.
So her mother has been trying to get people interested. Susie Fernandez has posted fliers asking anyone with information to contact police. She's offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.
Inside her house, off a busy road leading to this small city in north-central South Carolina, Maria Fernandez's three siblings recently listened as their mother recounted her daughter's life.
Fernandez was a popular nurse at the Ellen Sagar Nursing Home and at Spartanburg Regional Medical Center, working two jobs to support her son. She worked long hours, but was at the school bus stop with the boy every morning.
Susie Fernandez said her daughter dated Good for nearly nine years and was living with him at his father's house. But in early September, Maria spent several nights at her mother's home, saying she was leaving Good because he refused to get a job.
On Sept. 3, Good picked up Fernandez at her mother's house because her car was in the shop. He drove her to the nursing home and when her shift ended at 2:30 p.m., Good was waiting.
And that's when the story gets murky.
Authorities say Good told police they went together to look at a new house. Later, Good said he dropped Fernandez off at his father's house and left. When he returned hours later, she was gone.
Numerous attempts to contact Good and his father, who authorities say live together, were unsuccessful. No one answered the door at the house on two visits. An answering machine said it wasn't accepting messages. White said that he hasn't heard from his client in two months, but that police know everything his client knows.
Good has been convicted of several crimes in the past 10 years: driving with a suspended license, drug possession and writing a fraudulent check. With each case, he either received a suspended sentence, probation or a small fine.
Sheriff's investigator Terry Humphries said police don't have enough evidence to charge anyone. He said police have searched several locations and found pieces of Maria's broken cell phone on a roadside.
Humphries said Fernandez would not have willingly left her son.
"She was totally dedicated to her child. There was no way she could leave him behind," he said.
Meanwhile, Fernandez's relatives say they are unable to see Jamel Good Jr. because his father has custody and refuses to let them visit.
As she was preparing for church one recent Sunday, Susie Fernandez dropped to her bed and began sobbing. Her 12-year-old daughter embraced her, whispering, "It's OK, momma. She's in a better place."
Later, looking out her front door, Fernandez brushed back a tear.
"There are so many nights I just wonder: Where are you? What happened?" she said. "I just want to bring my baby back home."
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