Mother of missing son responds to legislation dying in committee - Daily Leader (2024)

Mother of missing son responds to legislation dying in committee

Published 2:51 pm Thursday, April 4, 2024

By Hunter Cloud

Mother of missing son responds to legislation dying in committee - Daily Leader (1)
Sharon Hughes and her son Zeb Hughes. Zeb and his friend Gunner Palmer went missing on the Mississippi River while scouting for a duck hunting trip on December 3, 2020. The young men were not found. (Courtesy Photo | Sharon Hughes)

JACKSON — It has been a little over three years since Sharon Hughes got the news no mother ever wants to hear. Her son was missing somewhere on the muddy Mississippi River near Vicksburg on December 3, 2020. Search teams worked to find local young men Zeb Hughes and Gunner Palmer but were unable to find them.

The boys had set out to scout for ducks on the Mississippi River but never made it back home. Their boat and some hunting equipment was found in the search efforts after their disappearance. State, federal and local officials presumed the boys to be dead due to circ*mstances of imminent peril.

House Bill 80, would have created a presumption of death for a missing person who had undergone a catastrophic event causing imminent peril. In doing so, the legislation would have allowed Mississippi’s Registrar of Vital Statistics to prepare death certificates under such conditions as the Zeb Hughes Law describes through a court order. The bill died on deadline day Tuesday, still in committee.

“It multiplied grief and trauma. I grieved today, not only for my family and Gunner’s family, but for every family that this could happen to in the future if this law is not changed,” Hughes said. “I fully agree with the seven year rule if someone vanishes without a trace. However, our boys did not walk to the store for a lollipop never to be seen again. There are mounds of evidence of their peril throughout multiple agencies in Mississippi and Louisiana in addition to the US Coast Guard.”

Zeb’s truck and trailer were found at the landing in Vicksburg, items of Zeb’s and Gunner’s from the boat were recovered in the search efforts that followed their disappearance. Hughes said the Mississippi River is a cruel body of water, everchanging. Throw in rainy, cold wintery weather conditions, anyone can see how the search teams were unable to recover them.

Local Rep. Becky Currie wrote the bill and said she worked with Hughes’ mother at King’s Daughter Medical Center and is a friend of hers. Currently, Mississippi’s law requires someone to be missing and presumed dead for seven years before a death certificate can be issued. Currie wrote a bill to help her friend out.

The bill passed out of the House with 121 yes votes and moved on to the Senate. The bill was referred to the senate committee Judiciary A where it was not reported on and brought to the senate floor for a vote in time for deadline.

Legislative shortcoming

Hughes watched the live streamed Judiciary A committee meeting Tuesday wondering if HB80 would be brought forward for a committee report and vote. Bills discussing teenage suicides came up in the committee and senators discussed the concerns they have for children. The concern stopped shy of getting HB80 moved along the legislative process.

Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hoseman’s office stated they were unaware why the bill was not brought up by the senate committee chairman Brice Wiggins. Hoseman’s office stated Wiggins would know more about what happened.

The senator has not returned an email or phone call asking for his comment on HB80. Hughes said she doesn’t understand what went wrong.

“How can two human beings with children and grandchildren find this bill so insignificant that they would not even be willing to take it to the Senate Committee for a vote,” Hughes said. “I feel confident that the committee would have voted “yes” for House Bill 80 to be sent to the Senate floor for a vote. However, two men took that option away from them.”

What the bill means

Zeb Hughes was 21 and had started to build credit while he attended Mississippi State University. Hughes said she needs to handle several things which would require a death certificate. Mississippi’s state law requires someone to be presumed dead for seven years before a certificate can be issued. She said no one will accept a certified letter from the Warren County Sheriff in place of one, which she understands.

Currie and others spoke about how the bill would bring closure to hurting families like the Hughes family. Hughes said she will not find closure until Zeb is in her arms when they are reunited in heaven.

“But having this document would allow me to handle things that are in his name that have now been tied up for over 3 years,” Hughes said. “Zeb was a man of his word, always paid his debts and was always generous to help others in every way he could. I want his legacy ‘on paper’ to show that as well.”

When she started advocating for the bill to be passed and discussing with others, Hughes realized the burden it must be for widows or widowers. She said spouses who suffered a similar loss with evidence of peril would have so much more that they could not do than what she faces on behalf of her son Zeb.

“Seven years of waiting could literally come down to the survival of their family,” Hughes said. “Life insurance, mortgage payments, vehicles, retirement funds and even utilities in the deceased person’s name that the spouse could do nothing with. The list is endless.”

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Mother of missing son responds to legislation dying in committee - Daily Leader (2024)

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