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Family fights for justice and a new law after murder of UFC star’s stepdaughter

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Aniah Blanchard, 19, was widely known for always putting other people before herself, but she also had a deep-seated fear of being kidnapped and harmed.

On Oct. 23, 2019, Aniah vanished without a trace after she dropped her brother off in Auburn, where they both attended college, and she texted her roommate that she was nearly home – only minutes away. “Just the worst feeling ever to not know where your child is,” Blanchard’s mother, Angela Harris, tells James Brown.

It would take two agonizing days before Aniah’s badly damaged car was found 55 miles away, and a blood-soaked seat and a bullet in the door told investigators that Aniah’s worst fear had likely became a tragic reality.

Aniah’s disappearance captured the nation as her family, the local community and law enforcement searched for more than a month to find her, and to uncover the truth of what happened to her that fateful night.

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Now, her grief-stricken parents are fighting to get a new law passed because her alleged killer was out on the streets even though he was arrested for kidnapping and beating two men earlier that year.

A VIBRANT PRESENCE

Angela Harris: I had Aniah on my birthday, June 22nd. … That was just gonna be … something so special in life for she and I to share … the same birthday.   

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Her laugh, infectious.  Her spirit, irrepressible. Aniah Blanchard was just 19 when she vanished – her vibrant presence replaced by the terrifying silence of her absence. 

Angela Harris and Aniah Blanchard
“She was a very happy girl that loved life. Very loving and giving.  She always put others before herself,” Angela Harris said of her daughter,  Aniah Blanchard.

Angela Harris


Angela Harris: She just embraced people. She just loved people. 

Walt Harris: She would walk in and no matter how you felt, how down you were, she could pick you up. 

Aniah’s stepfather, UFC heavyweight Walt Harris, was a rising star ranked ninth in the world in the fall of 2019.  He says Aniah constantly inspired him. 

Walt Harris: After wins … we celebrate.  If it’s a loss, she’d always pick me up, and … she was always that rock … that voice that kept me going. 

Aniah grew up in Homewood, Alabama, near Birmingham.  It’s practically local folklore, that after every school softball game, Aniah invited the opposing team to join hers on the pitcher’s mound to share high fives and the Lord’s Prayer. 

Hannah Crocker: And even if we lost, the other team lost, no matter what … no hard feelings. … I think that was her whole thing. … This is a way to connect people. 

Longtime friend Hannah Crocker met Aniah in the sixth grade.

Hannah Crocker: She was one of those people that just … wanted to make sure that, “hey, you’re doing OK. If not, let me help you out. “

James Brown: Did folks ever think you two might be boyfriend and girlfriend? 

Elijah Blanchard: All the time [laughs]. “Is this your girlfriend?” I’m like “no, this is my sister.

They were nearly inseparable, says Aniah’s older brother, Elijah Blanchard. 

Elijah Blanchard: We grew up 17 months apart. … We were always together and … she even followed me to college. 

Elijah headed off to Auburn University in 2017.  Aniah enrolled at nearby Southern Union State Community College a year later, finding an apartment just minutes from her brother.   

Elijah Blanchard: I would call her every morning [pauses]. Sorry. It gets kind of rough sometimes.

On October 23, 2019 – Aniah, Elijah and their mom, Angela, attended the funeral of a family friend in northern Alabama.  Immediately after the service, the siblings had to leave. Both had to work the next morning back in Auburn –185 miles away.   

Angela Harris: She looked over at me.  She said,” hey, mom, we really need to leave now … because it’s getting late.”  And I said, “Yeah, you’re right, it’s 7 o’clock. … You’ve got a 4-hour drive.” And then she hugged me, and I kissed her on the cheek, and I told her I loved her. 

Driving right past Birmingham, Aniah and Elijah made a pit stop at home to see their stepfather, Walt.  He was training for his next fight.   

Walt Harris: I didn’t ever call them stepkids. They were my children. It’s just the way I saw it, you know. I loved them like my own.  

The children’s biological father — Elijah Blanchard Sr., a local pastor and businessman – remained a close presence in their lives.  He and Angela divorced in 2004. Soon, she started dating Walt Harris.  And then he met Aniah and Elijah Jr for the first time. 

James Brown: You came into her life around age 3.  … Tell us about how that bonding process went.

Walt Harris: I think it started day one. … Man, we did everything together.

Angela Harris: It was beautiful for me to watch their bond grow over the years.  

Walt Harris: They loved me like they knew me their whole lives. …   We just felt like a little family.  

Aniah Blanchard and family
Aniah Blanchard, left, with her mom, stepfather and siblings.

Angela Harris


Walt and Angela made it official, getting married in January 2010.  They eventually had two children of their own – Asah and Aylah. 

Angela Harris: He was with them more than I was because I worked a lot.  

Angela, a pediatric emergency room nurse, worked nights at a Birmingham hospital.  So, it was Aniah who helped Walt with the younger children. 

Walt Harris: It was me and Aniah.  She helped me basically raise her little brother and sister.  

Walt Harris: Coming from a strong Christian background. … I wanted to … be a good influence in their lives. 

blanchard-harris.jpg
Walt Harris was ranked ninth in the world in the Ultimate Fighting Championship [UFC] fight game as he entered the fall of 2019.

Getty Images


The kids certainly look up to their dad. At 6’5,” 250 pounds, Walt Harris has been a towering presence in their lives and in the bruising octagon cage of the Ultimate Fighting Championship – the UFC. 

Win, lose, or draw, Walt’s family has always been in his corner. 

Walt Harris: My family’s always been the reason why I fight, and they’ve always been the reason why I get back up.  And Aniah, she was the main catalyst for that. 

After the funeral, Aniah and Elijah’s visit with Walt was all too short.  A brief talk, a long hug, and they were back on the road to Auburn … still about 2 hours away.  When they left, Walt says hewas left with a growing sense of regret. 

Walt Harris: I struggle with it every day. … I should have just told them to stay. 

Walt Harris: … because I felt like she was tired. I remember she said, “No, I’m fine, Dad. I’ll be fine.” … then I hugged her and told her I love her and that was it. 

They made the drive without incident, arriving in Auburn around 11 p.m. Aniah dropped off Elijah at his apartment. 

Elijah Blanchard: So, I just said, I love her, be careful, and make sure you get home safe.

Sarah O’Brien: So, at 11:09 p.m., I texted her and said, “Are you close to being home?” She responded right back, “Yeah.”   

Aniah’s college roommate, Sarah O’Brien.

Sarah O’Brien: She always let me know where she was at and when she would be home.  We actually shared each other’s location on our iPhone.  

That’s because, Sarah says, Aniah had a deep-rooted fear.

Sarah O’Brien: Since the day I met Aniah, she always told me that that was her biggest fear — to be kidnapped or murdered. … Like, as soon as she walked in, she would check every room. … She would tell me multiple times, like, she had nightmares about it happening to her.

Walt Harris: You know, she really never went anywhere by herself at night.  

But that night, after dropping off her brother, she was alone with just three miles to go.   

That’s how far away she and Sarah lived from Elijah – 3 miles, normally a 10-minute drive.  But nearly 30 minutes later, Aniah had not come home.  Sarah texted again.

Sarah O’Brien [reading text]: Did you go out without me?

About a minute later came the reply.

Sarah O’Brien [reading text]: “I’m smoking a blunt, LOL.”   

It was the word blunt,” Sarah says, that stopped her.  She had never heard Aniah use it. 

Sarah O’Brien [reading text]: I said, “Who are you smoking with?” “Eric.”  I said, “Who’s that?” …”I just met him.” And I responded with, “Where?”  

It was 11:43 p.m.  There would not be another response. Sarah checked her cellphone one last time for Aniah’s location.  She appeared to be at a nearby apartment complex where lots of students lived.  Sarah went to bed, she says, thinking Aniah was hanging out with friends.

“WE CAN’T FIND ANIAH”

The next morning, October 24, Angela Harris took her children to school, and reached out to Aniah to talk. It was their early morning ritual. 

Angela Harris: We FaceTimed every morning … that was kind of our thing like, “good morning. What are you doing? What do you have planned for the day?”

Angela Harris: So, when I called her at 8 a.m. and she didn’t answer the FaceTime, I thought, OK, well, you know, she’s busy, so I’ll give her a little bit longer.

Aniah Blanchard and Sarah O'Brien
Aniah BLanchard, left, with her friend and roommate, Sarah O’Brien.

Sarah O’Brien


Sarah was eager to hear about Eric, the mystery man Aniah met the night before. She went straight to Aniah’s bedroom. 

Sarah O’Brien: … and she wasn’t there … She would always come home. 

Sarah O’Brien: She wouldn’t spend the night with anyone she had just met. 

Sarah glanced at her cellphone looking for Aniah’s latest location, but there was none. Aniah’s phone had gone dark.   

James Brown: When did concern turn to worry for you, Sarah? 

Sarah O’Brien: When I called the lady that she babysat for and she hadn’t shown up that morning … because she never misses a day to babysit those kids. She loved them. 

Corrina Thomas: She was like a mother to my kids.

Corrina Thomas, the working mother who depended on Aniah, said she was the most reliable nanny she ever had. 

Corrina Thomas: Amazing. I don’t know how else to explain it, like every good quality that you want in a person she had, like everything.

Angela Harris: She never once, never once didn’t show up to take care of those kids. 

Sarah O’Brien: … and that’s when I hopped in the car to look for Aniah’s car … The longer I drove the more worried I got. I didn’t see any trace of her at all. 

Sarah decided to get Aniah’s brother and take a second look.   

Aniah and Elijah Blanchard
Aniah’s older brother, Elijah Blanchard, says he and his sister were nearly inseparable.

Angela Harris


Elijah Blanchard: Her roommate calls me and told me that Aniah never even came home last night. Aniah’s missing. 

Sarah O’Brien: And then I told him what she said about Eric. And that she was with him … And he was like, “no, she didn’t tell me anything about that.” 

Elijah Blanchard: …and my heart kind of just sank … And this was completely out of her character … This isn’t Aniah … Aniah wouldn’t have run away.

Elijah Blanchard: So … immediately … I call my parents. … and I was like, uh, “Aniah’s missing.” 

Angela Harris: And he says, “mom, we can’t find Aniah” … and I said,” son what are you talking about you can’t find her” he said “no mom … I’m in her apartment and we can’t find Aniah.”

Immediately alarmed, Angela and Walt took off for Aniah’s apartment, two excruciating hours away.

Angela Harris: We just got in his truck and just flew to Auburn.  

Angela Harris: All types of things are going through our heads. … What’s happened?  What’s going on? … And pure hell.

James Brown: Walt, how did you process all of this when you found out your daughter was missing?    

Walt Harris [in tears]: That drive to Auburn was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through in my life because I knew something wasn’t right.

Elijah decided to check with Corrina Thomas again, maybe Aniah showed up.  

Corrina Thomas: I wasn’t worried until her brother messaged me.

Elijah Blanchard [reading text]: Hey, I’m Aniah’s brother.  I was wondering if you have heard from my sister today?   

Corrina Thomas [reading text]: No I haven’t. I called her a bunch of times this morning, and she missed picking up the kids this morning.

Elijah Blanchard [reading text]: … Yes, I’m at her apartment. We have been looking everywhere for her and can’t find her. 

And Aniah never left her dog Bloo alone overnight. 

Angela Harris: That was her baby … we just knew when we get to her apartment that, wait, there’s something really bad wrong here. 

Word quickly spread to Aniah’s friends. 

Hannah Crocker: And I was like, what? I was just talking to her last night. … what are you talking about? … I mean, I live three hours away from her. I was like, I don’t know where she is. 

Hannah Crocker dropped everything and headed to Aniah’s apartment. 

Hannah Crocker: Once it was 24 hours, I was like, that’s not Aniah. … In my heart … I was like, she’s a female, something happened.  

DA Brandon Hughes:  Auburn is a college town. … and it’s a very safe place.  

Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes. 

DA Brandon Hughes: This, from the very beginning, felt very differently, you know, based on the information we had. It just didn’t feel like this was a college student who decided to leave and blow off some steam … that just wasn’t her personality. That’s just not something she would have done. 

Aniah’s disappearance was breaking news. 

WALT HARRIS’ APPEAL:  If you have any leads on where our daughter is, Aniah Blanchard, please, please, please go to the authorities, tell someone. She was last seen in a Black Honda CVR 2017…” 

ANGELA HARRIS’ APPEAL: Please, if you know anything … we have to have her back, we have to have her back.

On October 25, 2019, with Aniah gone for two days, her Honda was spotted in an apartment complex, in Montgomery, Alabama, 55 miles from Auburn 

Aniah Blanchard's car
On October 25, 2019, Aniah Blanchard’s badly damaged car was found about 55 miles away from Auburn, at an apartment complex in Montgomery, Alabama. 

WIAT


And it was badly damaged. Worse still, there was no sign of Aniah. 

Corrina Thomas had to break the news to her children. 

Corrina Thomas [in tears]: And I said, “Aniah’s missing.” And then they cried.  

And then they came up with their own plan to help find her. 

Corrina Thomas: … they got their tablets … “Hey Google, how many houses are in Montgomery?” And I was like, “why are you looking that up?” And he said, “because we got to go see how many houses we have to go look for her at” … they just wanted to find her. 

But nothing anyone did led to an Aniah sighting. Then, a few days after she disappeared, police discovered that after Aniah dropped off her brother, she stopped at a gas station just two minutes from her home.  

DA Brandon Hughes: It’s a Chevron gas station on College Street.  

DA Brandon Hughes: Aniah entered the Chevron gas station approximately 11:21 in the evening on the night of October 23. And she stayed there approximately a minute-and-a-half to two minutes before she left. 

blanchard-surveillance.jpg
Police released surveillance images of Aniah Blanchard from October 23, 2019 – at 11:21 p.m.. The video was from a convenience store at a gas station just two minutes away from her apartment.

Auburn Police Department


Aniah bought a bag of sour cream and onion potato chips and a drink. 

Angela Harris: … that was her thing every night. … Even at home, growing up, she would snack right before bed. 

Investigators also wanted to speak with anyone who was at that gas station that night. 

DA Brandon Hughes: We needed to know if anybody saw anything. … What was she doing? … Was she talking to anybody? Did she leave with anybody?  

THE SEARCH INTENSIFIES

Investigators zeroed in on the Chevron gas station, where Aniah was last seen on video before she disappeared. They were looking for any leads to where she might be. 

The community of Homewood, where she grew up, prayed for Aniah’s safe return. Ribbons and bows in Aniah’s favorite color appeared everywhere.

And, when they weren’t praying for her, they were out trying to find her. 

Hannah Crocker: Pretty quickly, people came together … just like, hey let’s do searches here, let’s do searchers there. 

Elijah Blanchard: We would go in the woods. We would go behind people’s houses.  We would go in alleyways.  

Walt Harris: We drove my truck in backwoods. I mean, we were all in people’s yards … We must have canvassed from Auburn to Tuskegee, just me and her, within the first two or three days.  

The investigation quickly expanded across several counties, especially after Aniah’s car was found 55 miles away in Montgomery. 

DA Brandon Hughes: … you have to imagine there were just massive areas that we had to search.

DA Brandon Hughes: There were dozens of agencies — state agencies, county agencies, local agencies, federal agencies … huge task force.  

And reward money poured in. UFC president Dana White and Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones each contributed $25,000.

Walt Harris: It’s a pain, it’s an anxiety. It’s just so many emotions. You’re trying to hold hope that something positive is going to come out of it … But as the days go on, your hope just starts to dwindle and dwindle.

Now missing eight days, hope was dealt a major blow. 

NORAH O’DONNELL [CBS EVENING NEWS]: Tonight, police in Auburn, Alabama say that there is evidence a missing college student is a victim of foul play.

AUBURN POLICE CHIEF PAUL REGISTER: Evidence from within her vehicle is the reason that we are aware that, you know, she was harmed, and we do consider this a case where there is foul play involved.

Police would not say what they found, but Aniah’s biological father, Elijah Blanchard Sr., was not ready to give up 

Aniah and Elijah Blanchard Sr.
Aniah with her father, Elijah Blanchard Sr., who remained a strong presence throughout her life. 

Angela Harris


ELIJAH BLANCHARD SR. [news interview]: That was hard for us. … I am a man of faith and regardless of what the police say, I still have hope that my Aniah is out there waiting for her father to get her. 

Aniah’s disappearance was taking more than an emotional toll on Walt Harris. He immediately cancelled his upcoming fight. Aniah was the only thing on everyone’s mind. 

Walt Harris: I wasn’t able to focus at all … it was chaos. There was sadness. I just wanted to be there for my family … It’s like a dark abyss … you’re fighting that off. 

Then, after 14 days, the police announced they wanted a man seen at the gas station store at the same time Aniah was there.  

Gas station surveillance
On November 6, 2019, police released surveillance video images of a “person of interest” who was at the gas station convenience store around the same time Aniah Blanchard was there. The man in the photo was identified the next day as Ibraheem Yazeed, a 30-year-old from Montgomery, Alabama, with a lengthy arrest record.

Auburn Police Department


An eyewitness said he thought he saw him force Aniah into her car before they drove off together.

LOCAL NEWS REPORT: This is a person of interest …  anyone who sees him is asked to call 911. 

Someone did, and the man the police were looking for was not named Eric. He was Ibraheem Yazeed, a 30-year-old from Montgomery and he had a lengthy arrest record.  

AUBURN POLICE CHIEF PAUL REGISTER [to reporters]: He should be considered dangerous and would be potentially armed.

Police said Yazeed was charged earlier that year with kidnapping, robbing, and nearly beating a 77-year-old man to death.  He was also accused of robbing and beating a second man. Despite the serious charges, he was free on bond and had been staying in a hotel near the Chevron gas station. 

Sarah O’Brien: How is this person free to walk into a gas station? … How is he just minutes down the road from me? How is he in the same gas station as my best friend?

But he was, and that was at 11:22 p.m. Aniah’s car was next seen a few minutes later at another nearby gas station, where Yazeed bought a small cigar.   

It would be a little more than an hour before a license plate reader picked up Aniah’s Honda near the entrance to I-85, heading south towards Montgomery.   

Aniah’s parents clung to hope, and they had faith that their daughter would be found alive … they even prayed for Yazeed. 

ANGELA HARRIS [NBC News report]: You can stop now. … You can change this. You can let her go. God will forgive you.  

Police captured Yazeed the following day hiding in the woods 145 miles away in another state. Police say he did not surrender peacefully. 

ANNE-MARIE GREEN [CBSN]: 30-year-old Ibraheem Yazeed was arrested overnight in Florida on the charge of kidnapping in the first degree.  

Ibraheem Yazeed extradited
On November 7, 2019,  Ibraheem Yazeed was captured by US Marshals in Escambia County, Florida, following a brief chase late at night. He was arrested and charged with kidnapping and then extradited to Lee County, Alabama.

WIAT


Yazeed appeared in a Florida court the next day, with a swollen left eye. And court documents finally revealed what police found in the car. It was blood, and a lot of it.  

NEWS REPORT: Court documents today say blood that was discovered in Aniah Blanchard’s car was “indicative of someone suffering a life-threatening injury 

Yazeed waived extradition to Lee County, Alabama, where Angela and Walt Harris would be waiting, hoping to find out where their daughter was.

A ROADMAP

The Harrises were committed to facing Yazeed whenever he appeared in court.  And each time felt like the first time. 

James Brown:  As a father, as a guy … I am imagining what might have been coursing through your veins. … Then you see him, Mr. Yazeed looking back at you guys. 

Walt Harris: Anger. I remember shaking. I wanted to climb across the barricade. 

Walt Harris: It made me really angry. Because — he was just kind of smug … like “you’re tough, I’m tough, too.” … like he was challenging me, almost. 

It took all of Walt’s training in the ring, and Angela’s steady hand, to keep him from ripping into Yazeed. 

Walt Harris: She grabbed me, and she said, “just breathe” …  And I just started trying to hear her voice because I could not — I wouldn’t take my eyes off of him.  … like, OK, who’s going to look away first type of deal.

James Brown:  Angela … how did you stay composed? 

Angela Harris: I wanted him to know that I’m representing my daughter. … and that I’m not going anywhere. We’re right here — and we’re going to fight this all the way through. 

Yazeed maintained his innocence, and the burden to find Aniah mounted. 

DA Brandon Hughes: Everybody was on edge because there’s a lot of pressure. … there’s pressure to find this little girl. 

Angela and Walt Harris publicized their daughter’s disappearance on “Dr. Phil.”

WALT HARRIS [on “Dr. Phil”]: Love you, baby girl. … we’re looking for you … we are doing everything that we can … and we are going to get you. I promise. 

DA Brandon Hughes: They’re on television and you’re doing everything you can. But up to this point, it hasn’t been enough.

By then, the DA, Angela and Walt, had grown close. 

DA Brandon Hughes: If you want to call up, get frustrated and yell at me for an hour, cry with me for an hour. I’m there. And that’s just what we were doing. 

A month after Aniah went missing, the DA had news. Authorities now believed that Antwain Fisher, who once served time for murder, helped Yazeed dispose of evidence. He was charged with kidnapping.  He soon cooperated, providing a roadmap to Aniah. 

DA Brandon Hughes: Aniah’s remains were located in Macon County, Alabama, which is between Auburn and Montgomery. 

DA Brandon Hughes: Obviously, we didn’t … know, to a hundred percent certainty that that’s who it was … there were several items of clothing out there. I saw a boot. I took a photograph of it.

Hughes asked the Harrises to meet at the DA’s office.     

DA Brandon Hughes: They don’t know why they’re there.

DA Brandon Hughes: … and I showed the Harrises the photograph.

The Sorel boots were a gift from Walt when the family visited New York City 

DA Brandon Hughes: Walt looked at the phone … He just drops it on the table and said, “Y’all excuse me.”

DA Brandon Hughes [emotional]: My wife had come up there … she was coming up the back stairwell. She said she saw Walt just punching the wall. I mean, this is a concrete wall. …He’s screaming and just punching this wall. That’s hard [crying].

Walt and Angela Harris
Walt and Angela Harris

CBS News


James Brown: Talk about a parent’s worst nightmare when her body was found. 

Angela Harris: Immediately, I just wanted to actually know if I could see my child. I just want to see her. We were told, no.

Angela Harris: I just didn’t want to go on anymore.

James Brown: Walt? 

Walt Harris: Broken. Confused. Angry. I just wanted to know why and what happened? 

Hughes and the police returned to the woods to search for more evidence. 

Brandon Hughes: … just literally crawling on hands and knees, looking for evidence … looking for anything that we could find.

And what they found helped the Harrises finally learn what happened to their beloved Aniah. 

FIGHTING FOR ANIAH

A blood-soaked passenger seat.  A bullet hole in the door.  The evidence tells a story of what happened to Aniah that night.  Investigators aren’t certain how Yazeed ended up inside the car with Aniah.  Did he ask for a ride? Did he force her?  But the damage outside suggests there was a struggle at some point as the car was moving. Investigators say Yazeed shot Aniah as she tried to escape.  

DA BRANDON HUGHES [to reporters]: Aniah Blanchard was killed in the manner of homicide … cause of death was a gunshot wound. 

James Brown: Was your faith shaken? Rocked? 

Walt Harris: To have our angel taken like that, I didn’t know why God would allow it. 

But Walt ultimately found comfort in his faith. 

Walt Harris: It brought me back … it’s helped me understand that God didn’t do this. 

And on December 2, 2019, District Attorney Hughes announced the person responsible was Ibraheem Yazeed.  He was now being charged with capital murder. 

DA BRANDON HUGHES [to reporters]: We’ll also be seeking the death penalty. 

Ibraheem Yazeed
Ibraheem Yazeed maintains his innocence. Since getting charged with Aniah’s kidnapping and murder, Yazeed has also been charged in connection with a 2018 shooting in Montgomery that left a homeless man dead and a woman severely injured. He’s being held in a Lee County jail awaiting trial. 

WRBL


Two days later, the Harrises were in court when Yazeed fought back. 

IBRAHEEM YAZEED [in court]:  I got rights too … Ya’ll have no video, no audio of me shooting anyone, that’s why I’m trying to see how y’all going to bind me, over on hearsay, but y’all aren’t presenting no evidence.  

Yazeed seemed pleased when he was done. 

Angela Harris: … the attitude, the smirks, the looks … wow. 

But maybe the most damning evidence against Yazeed comes from Antwain Fisher. Remember, he was facing charges of helping Yazeed. Those charges were dropped.  Fisher told police that just hours after Aniah disappeared, Yazeed showed up in Montgomery looking for help. And he was driving what looked like Aniah’s black Honda.  

Fisher said he followed Yazeed to an apartment complex – the same complex where police would later find Aniah’s Honda. Yazeed then got into the truck Fisher was driving says lead Detective Josh Mixon.  

DET. JOSH MIXON [in court]: They ended up behind a church near a cemetery. … and when he looked in the rearview mirror, he saw Yazeed dragging something wrapped in a comforter. It appeared to be two legs. He dragged it in the woods … come back … got in the vehicle, and he … said, “tell me that’s not a body.”  

Fisher says Yazeed told him he shot a girl quote “when she went for the gun. 

Angela Harris [in tears]: Wow — it’s indescribable. … how someone could actually do those things to my beautiful daughter … and it’s so traumatizing to think about what she went through.

Walt Harris: Hearing it in grave detail, it was painful.

And then the Harrises would learn that Yazeed in addition to being charged with nearly beating an elderly man to death, was also being charged with shooting two other people the year before he’s accused of killing Aniah. 

James Brown: What would you like to see happen?

Walt Harris: Justice.

Angela Harris: Definitely justice … I want justice for my daughter. 

But justice has been delayed. The pandemic has slowed all of Yazeed’s criminal cases, and his lawyer declined to be interviewed. 

Walt, who had considered ending his career, found inspiration when Aniah came to him in a dream

blanchard-aniah-walt.jpg
Without his biggest fan to support him, the 6’5″, 250-pound UFC fighter said he was ready to throw in the towel on his career. “I didn’t even know if I would fight again,” said Walt Harris, pictured with Aniah.

Angela Harris


Walt Harris: … she was sitting in her living room, and there was just a beam of light on her and she had her arms out and I hugged her, and she said, “keep going”. And I just woke up, like with a renewed vigor, I felt fresh. 

Inspired by Aniah, Walt Harris bravely returned to the ring. Incredibly, a fight was scheduled for October 24, the anniversary of Aniah’s murder. 

Angela Harris: When he first told me … I said, “are you sure?” … He said, “I’m sure.” And so, I knew how important that this was to him and how important that this would be to her, to Aniah, and that she would want him to do it. 

Walt flew to Abu Dhabi, and spent two weeks in quarantine, training in a hotel.  

Angela, meanwhile, remained home, caring for their family, and holding a vigil the night before Walt’s fight, marking the anniversary for the last time they saw Aniah alive. 

The following day, the Harrises were on the edge of their seats to watch Walt fight halfway around the world.

Walt started out strong, but in an instant, the fight was over.

In retrospect Walt told “48 Hours” he needed more mental strength. He returned home and a few days later, he released all that pent-up emotion. 

Angela Harris: He just broke down and fell down on the floor, crying.

And through all of her pain, Angela found her new calling. She started a nonprofit, Aniah’s Heart, to teach safety, and help search for missing people. 

Angela Harris: I’ve done group sessions of education. I just did one … with some sophomores from Aniah’s high school, a group of like 20 girls teaching them about education and safety, it was amazing. 

Angela Harris
Angela Harris advocates for “Aniah’s Law” a bill that if enacted, will help deny bond to suspects accused of violent offenses. The bill passed the Alabama House on February 23, 2021, and will now go to the Alabama Senate. 

WAKA


ANGELA HARRIS [addressing reporters at the Alabama Legislature]: This is a must, we have to have this law.

And she’s campaigning for “Aniah’s Law,” a bill which, if enacted, allows judges to deny bond to serious violent offenders. 

Angela Harris: You have people committing multiple violent crimes and they just get out on bond. It’s just not OK. 

blanchard-aniah.jpg
Aniah Blanchard’s tragic death left an entire community devastated. A few days before Christmas in 2019, nearly 2,000 people joined a memorial service to celebrate her life and December 21, 2019 was officially declared “Aniah Haley Blanchard Day” in Homewood, Alabama, her hometown.  

Angela Harris


Around Christmas 2019, nearly 2,000 people came together to celebrate Aniah’s life. 

ANGELA HARRIS: I know one thing … that I will not stop fighting for her. 

BILL CLEVELAND: … that beautiful smile she had, that could just light up a room.

NOAH VAIL: Aniah was light, when you looked at her in her eyes, the way she made you feel, she just made you feel like you was OK.

AYLAH HARRIS: We will miss you. We are so happy you were our sissy. 

HANNAH CROCKER: Aniah has been my best friend since I met her in sixth grade … she left me with the best memories ever, of course … she was a leader … she would put people first even when she was sad or needed anything. I love you Aniah … You are truly my sunshine on rainy days.   

DENISE LEWIS: December 21, 2019, will be forever known … as Aniah Haley Blanchard Day in the city of Homewood, Alabama. 

Elijah Blanchard: … all this stuff is true. She really was, truly a special human being. 

In 2020, DA Hughes was indicted on charges unrelated to the Blanchard case.

Among the counts: perjury and ethics violations.

He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.


Produced by Murray Weiss. Mead Stone is the producer-editor. Iris Carreras is the associate producer. Lauren Turner Dunn is the broadcast associate. Greg McLaughlin and Phil Tangel are the editors. Patti Aronofsky and Alvin Patrick are the senior producers. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer.

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