Mother of missing son vows to continue fighting for Zeb Hughes Law

Published 11:02 am Friday, April 5, 2024

JACKSON —  A mother vowed to continue to fight for her son, and others who are presumed to have died in conditions of imminent peril, Thursday after legislation bringing changes to death certificate laws died Tuesday in committee.

Sharon Hughes, the mother of missing duck hunter Zeb Hughes, said she is very driven to fight for change. Her plans are to try and get the Zeb Hughes Law to pass in 2025 and be more public about the steps she is taking. She is willing to accept all support offered to help get the word out to Mississippians. Zeb went missing with his friend Gunner Palmer while scouting for a duck hunting trip on December 3, 2020 near Vicksburg. Search teams were not able to find or recover them. 

It is likely the Hughes and Palmer families are not the only ones in this situation. A conversation Hughes had with Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace illustrates the deadly power the Mississippi River has. He told her about 55 percent of the people who go missing on the Mississippi River aren’t ever recovered. 

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The chances of recovering people missing on the Mississippi River drop significantly in the winter. For one reason or another, no one has gone to the legislature to request a change to the law to her knowledge. 

“My hope going forward as I prepare for the next legislative session is that word will spread to other families and they will come forward to band together to present our concerns and needs to these government officials,” Hughes said. “If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. I did ask and the answer was no, so I will continue to have trust in the Lord and will ask again next year.” 

Unfortunate is the word she used to describe the legislative process of how two people could kill a bill out of all the representatives and senators who have been elected to office. Her vow is to continue to fight for the bill even if she has to wait the full seven years or ends up 10 years down the road. 

“I will still be fighting for this law to be changed. I will fight for this change until I know that other families will not face the same trauma and heartache that I faced throughout this process,” Hughes said. 

The process she referred to was the hope she had after an attorney told her she could be issued a death certificate by the attorney general’s office. 

For 11 months, she went through paperwork and two judges orders to get to the Director of Vital Records who told her a death certificate could not be issued. Legally, the director of vital records was right. The attorney was incorrect in the information they gave and added to the weight of trauma Hughes was already carrying. 

“Going home everyday to my mailbox hoping it would be there because I need it but also terrified to actually see it and have it in my hand is beyond disturbing,” Hughes said. “But every day when I opened it and it was not there, I had to start the process of fearing opening it again, the next day, all over again.” 

The legacy of Gunner and Zeb continue to live on through legislative work and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. Each year, youth duck hunters gather at Muscadine Farms for the Gunner Palmer Youth Memorial Waterfowl Camp. 

Hughes said the general public can help in keeping their legacy alive by continuing to share their story and advocate for change. 

“There is strength in numbers. Tell everyone you know that they can ask for change to be made,” Hughes said. “Those people are who I’m fighting for and they need to know their voice matters and it can be heard. I am open to anyone reaching out with support or contact information for other families in this situation.”