HILLIARD, Fla. – As families around the world make plans for Mother’s Day Sunday, the family of 34-year-old mother of three Joleen Cummings will experience yet another without her.
The Nassau County mother disappeared on Mother’s Day weekend in 2018. A jury convicted her former coworker Kimberly Kessler in her murder last year. Kessler is now serving a life sentence in the Florida Department of Corrections. Cummings’ remains have never been found.
In his first-ever television interview, Cummings’ husband, Jason Cummings, opened up to News4JAX.
A public park is not the typical place where one would go to grieve a loved one. But the memorial bench to his wife, Joleen, at Buchanan Park in Hilliard is all Jason and his children have.
“They don’t have a gravesite to go visit,” Jason said. “This is the only thing they have to remind them of their mama.”
A lot has changed in the years since Joleen’s disappearance. Jason thinks back to how his family started. He says they first met as kids when they lived in the same neighborhood. In 2012, they connected on social media. Sometime later, he says, Joleen was looking for a roommate.
“And I moved in with her and we fell in love,” Jason said. “The best time of my life.”
The couple married and became parents to their two sons. She also had a daughter. Jason never imagined raising his two boys without her.
“She was a good mama,” Jason said. “That’s, I think that’s got a lot of why I fell in love with her.”
A doting mother first and foremost, Joleen was also a talented hairdresser. That path led her to the Tangles hair salon in Nassau County. Separated and going through a divorce at the time, Jason is still mystified by that Mother’s Day weekend when Joleen failed to meet him to pick up the children for a planned visit. He says he called Joleen’s mother, Ann Johnson, who also had not heard from her. The next day, there was still no word from Joleen.
“And that’s when Ann decided to report her missing,” Jason said. “Thank God we did. If we had waited another day, that lady probably would’ve been long gone.”
Jason says he’d never heard anything about Joleen’s mysterious coworker, now identified as Kessler. What prompted the attack that day is still unclear.
“I don’t know, Joleen seen something that wasn’t right about her, I guess it scared her,” Jason said. “Joleen could read people.”
Jason says to avoid the intense media scrutiny, he took his boys and temporarily moved to South Carolina, with the goal of protecting them through that vulnerable time. He says the boys, now 6 and 8, still don’t know all the details of what happened to their mom. As they get older, he knows that day is coming.
“I hope they understand what I did, keeping it from them while they were young,” Jason said. “I also hope that they don’t have hard feelings toward me when they do find out. It’s just a weird situation.”
With Mother’s Day approaching, Jason reflects on happy memories. Beneath Joleen’s full name, the memorial bench bears the nicknames “JoJo” and “Gooser.”
“That was from her friend, Brooke,” Jason said. “I think her friend Brooke used to call her that.”
Jason said that friend, Brooke Harley, was the best of friends to Joleen and a great support system. That’s something he cherishes to this day. He also wishes to thank the community for helping in the search, and for their prayers.
“A lot of people took time out of their life, and I really appreciate that,” Jason said. “I wish I could thank everybody.”
Even though they were going through a divorce, Jason said he always loved Joleen. He remembers her as a woman with a heart of gold.
“A lot of things I wish I could take back. She opened my eyes in a lot of ways,” Jason said. “She taught me how to be a better dad.”
I asked, “Do you talk to your kids about their mom?”
“They ask questions about her. They know she’s in heaven being looked after,” Cummings said. “They think that’s their guardian angel.”
“If you could say one more thing to Joleen, what would it be?” I continued.
“I don’t think y’all have enough film in that camera,” Cummings said. “We miss her and love her, every day.”
His one message to Joleen Cummings’ killer is simple.
“My life changed, my kids’ life changed,” he said. “I don’t know the lady, I couldn’t care less about the lady. Just talk, get this over with. Let us have peace.”
News4JAX reached out to the Florida Department of Corrections for an update on Kessler since she went to prison in January. Contrary to her behavior in the Nassau County jail, the staff says she’s had no disciplinary reports.
Jason says he still has hope that one day Joleen’s remains will be found, and she’ll finally be laid to rest.
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