On October 24, 2019, Aniah Blanchard was reported missing, seen alive the last time at a gas station the previous night. A witness claims that they witnessed her kidnapping. A month after her disappearance, Aniah's body was found.
The case received media attention due to the nature of the case, but also because she was the stepdaughter of Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter Walt Harris.
A suspect was identified, arrested, and charged, and as of this month, he is being held in county jail without bond. Prosecutors will be seeking the death penalty if the case goes to trial.
BACKGROUND AND ABDUCTION
Aniah Haley Blanchard was born on June 22, 2000 in Homewood, Alabama. Her mother was a registered nurse, and her father was a businessman in Birmingham. Her parents divorced at some point during her childhood, and her mother remarried UFC heavyweight fighter Walt Harris.
Aniah graduated from Homewood High School where she was a softball player and cheerleader. She had just begun studying early childhood education at Southern Union State Community College, and planned to transfer to Auburn University soon.
As the daughter of a sexual assault nurse for 20 years, Aniah was always precautious. "Aniah was scared somebody would hurt her," her mother Angela said. From a young age, Angela told her, "You're biracial, you're beautiful, you're unique and you stand out. You catch people's eyes. Especially men, so you have to understand that and be careful." This is a talk that all too many mothers have had to have with their daughters to keep them safe in this world.
The 19-year-old was reported missing to the Auburn Police Department 1 year ago today on October 24, 2019. Family had seen her the previous night, and she was exchanging Snapchats with friends late into the night.
At 11:09 pm, Aniah told her roommate that she was almost home. Then, a half hour later, she told her roommate that she had met a man named Eric and was with him. All phone activity ended 7 minutes later. Even now, it is unknown if Aniah was the one sending the messages, or when her messages stopped and her killer's began.
Surveillance footage picked up Aniah at a Chevron gas station in the late hours of October 23. Even though her phone wasn't recovered, police were able to use the records to trace the phone's movement.
With no real clues as to what happened to her, the disappearance resulted in an extensive effort to find her. By October 30, the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences and the police had formed a variety of task forces to help find her.
On October 25, authorities located Aniah's Honda CR-V, which was reported to have been in "disarray" and abandoned near an apartment complex. Inside, they found evidence of foul play, like blood in the passenger's seat. It was enough that the Forensic team indicated someone may have suffered a life-threatening injury in that seat. They also found a bullet hole in the passenger side door, and shell casings in the car.
By November 6, the police had released an image from the surveillance video of a "person of interest". He was identified the following day as 29-year-old Ibraheem Yazeed of Montgomery, Alabama. He was in the store the same time as Aniah, buying alcohol and regularly looking in her direction. Additionally, there was footage of him leaving the passenger side of her vehicle. Surveillance footage from another gas station revealed that he re-entered her car and they drove away together.
A witness claims to have seen Yazeed force Aniah into her car against her will. The witness had apparently told friends about what they saw, but was told to mind their own business, so it was never reported.
AN ABDUCTION TURNS TO A MURDER
At the time of Aniah's death, Yazeed was free on a $295,000 bond for a possession, robbery, kidnapping and attempted murder charge. In January of 2019, he and 3 other assailants robbed and beat 2 men in a hotel in Montgomery. One of the men was 77 years old and was left "unconscious, unresponsive, severely injured and near death". He was also accused of attempting to kill 2 police officers in 2012 by ramming his car into theirs, and was arrested in 2017 for assaulting a police officer.
Additionally, in 2018 he murdered Stephen Hamby, a 29-year-old man who was shot to death in Montgomery. He also shot a woman in the face during the attack, but she survived. He was charged for that murder and attempted murder in June 2020.
An arrest warrant was issued for Yazeed on November 7 on suspicion of the kidnapping. He was found in Pensacola, Florida from an anonymous tip. He was extradited back to Alabama, and has been held in the Lee County Jail without bond since he was caught.
On November 22, Antwain Fisher was arrested in connection with the kidnapping, alleging that he had disposed of evidence and helped with transportation for Yazeed. Fisher was also no stranger to the legal system, having served 3 years for a drug-related murder. David Johnson Jr. was arrested a few days later and charged with hindering prosecution. However, charges against both proposed accomplices were dropped.
It wasn't until June 2020 when Fisher finally spoke to investigators about the crime. According to him, Yazeed came to Johnson's home at around 5 or 6 am on October 24, 2019. Fisher said he had seen Aniah's car in the bushes during that time, and Yazeed said he needed more gas for the vehicle. Fisher took Yazeed to the gas station, and then they went back to the Johnson residence.
He alleged that Yazeed told him that he needed to pick something up. The 2 stopped in Montgomery where he purchased an assault rifle. They went to a cemetery off the highway. It was there that Fisher claimed to have seen Yazeed drag what appeared to be a human body away. He stayed in the woods for a while before returning. Allegedly, Fisher said "tell me that's not a body" to which Yazeed responded "it won't come back on you and your family".
Unfortunately, it was a body. On November 25, 2019, just over a month after she was first reported missing, human remains were found in Macon County, Alabama. It appeared the skull had a bullet hole in the top. They would be identified officially as Aniah Blanchard 2 days later.
The autopsy revealed she had been killed via gunshot wound, upgrading Yazeed's charges to capital murder.
The trial has not started yet. Yazeed will face 2 charges of capital murder and the prosecution will be seeking the death penalty. He had a preliminary hearing scheduled for March, but it was postponed due to the pandemic.
The hearing was finally held on June 3, though all that was determined during the hearing was that the crime was committed in Lee County, and thus, it was sent to a Lee County Grand Jury. Yazeed added second-degree assault charges to his list of crimes when he assaulted several corrections officers while behind bars.
Because this case happened so recently, there is no trial outcome yet, but one has to hope that Yazeed will spend the rest of his life behind bars for the murder of an innocent 19-year-old girl with her whole life ahead of her.
Even though it has only been 1 year, legislation has already been passed to reform Alabama's bail laws with the creation of Aniah's Law. The Alabama Constitution provides the rights for all defendants to have the opportunity for bail, unless they are charged with capital offenses. Aniah's law expands on the exception, including other crimes including arson, burglary, domestic violence, aggravated child abuse, assault, robbery, kidnapping, human trafficking, rape, sodomy, sexual torture, terrorism, and murder.
In cases with those crimes, prosecutors could request a hearing regarding bail, and a judge could grant or deny it given the circumstances. The defendant would be allowed to testify, present witnesses, and cross-examine witnesses if given a trial. The law passed 104-0 in the Alabama House of Representatives in February of 2020.
I think this is a great law. The only one on the list I'm not in love with is "robbery", because I do think that is a crime you might do if you're young and stupid, and your whole life shouldn't be ruined for that type of mistake. However, since judges can grant or deny bail in that type of case, I would hope they would take into consideration previous criminal history, etc. to make the right choice about bail.
Other than robbery... yeah. All of those crimes seem indicative of a person who would commit other crimes. Kidnapping, crimes against children, any crime that is sexual in nature, DV, arson, murder... all of these types of crimes should certainly have the right to have bail denied. People who commit those types of crimes are rarely "young and dumb", and they are likely to commit crimes again. It is so sad to think that if this law existed in October of 2019, Aniah Blanchard may still be alive.
Aniah's mother, Angela, has to constantly reminder herself that "this is real" as she wakes up to her nightmare every day. In 1997, Angela lost her 3-year-old son in a car wreck. She plans to bury Aniah on November 7, 2020, the same day she buried her 3-year-old 23 years ago. They have been waiting for months for her body to be released for burial.
"Basically, I go from anger to just shutting down. No one day is the same and I feel like no minute is the same," Angela said. "I have to keep reminding myself that it's real. I literally tell myself a million times a day 'this has happened'. I wake up in the morning and I'm like, 'Oh my God, my daughter has been murdered.'. Aniah is not here. I don't have her. I can't call her. I can't touch her. I can't do anything."
Angela believes that Yazeed was never going to stop hurting others, and that Aniah was the one to stop him. "She gave her life to save other people," she said.
"I could see her future, her being a teacher, a softball coach, taking care of me when I got older. It was touchable. You could see it. And now she's gone."
The case against Ibraheem Yazeed will go forward, but no trial date has been set yet in the wake of the COVID pandemic. Rest assured, Aniah's family will continue fighting for justice and reform that ensures other mother's daughters are safe in this world.
Rest in peace, Aniah Blanchard.