Inside the investigation to find college student Aniah Blanchard

blanchard-aniah.jpg
Angela Harris

Aniah Blanchard, 19, the stepdaughter of UFC fighter Walt Harris, went missing in October 2019. Her remains were found about a month later and authorities arrested a suspect who maintains his innocence.

Aniah Blanchard grew up in Homewood, Alabama, where everyone knew her as loving and caring.

A Close Family

Aniah Blanchard and family
Angela Harris

Aniah was very close to her mother Angela Harris, her siblings, and her stepfather, UFC heavyweight fighter Walt Harris

Aniah and her Father

Aniah and Elijah Blanchard Sr.
Angela Harris

Aniah was also close to her father, Elijah Blanchard Sr., who remained a strong presence throughout her life. 

Aniah Disappears

Aniah Blanchard
Angela Harris

October 23, 2019: At around 11 p.m., Aniah dropped her brother, Elijah, off at his home in Auburn, Alabama, where they both attended college.

Aniah and Elijah lived 10 minutes away from each other.

A Concerned Roommate

Aniah Blanchard and Sarah O'Brien
Sarah O’Brien

October 23, 2019 | 11:09 p.m.: Aniah’s friend and roommate, Sarah O’Brien, was waiting for Aniah to get back home. At 11:09 p.m. she messaged her, “Are you almost home?” and Aniah replied, “Yeah.”

But 30 minutes later, Aniah had yet to come home. 

Aniah’s Last Texts

Sarah O'Brien
CBS News

October 23, 2019 | 11:38 p.m.: Sarah messaged Aniah again asking her if she went out. Aniah replied she was out with a man named Eric and he was someone she just met. Sarah checked Aniah’s location, a phone feature they always shared, and assumed she was hanging out with friends at an apartment complex where other college students lived nearby.

The Next Morning

Elijah Blanchard
CBS News

October 24, 2019: Sarah noticed that Aniah did not come home. She reached out to Aniah’s brother, Elijah, and he in turn called the woman Aniah babysat for, Corrina Thomas, who told him Aniah did not show up for work. 

Elijah then called his mother, Angela Harris, and his stepfather, Walt Harris, telling them, “Aniah’s missing” – they immediately drove to Auburn.

Aniah and Bloo

Aniah Blanchard and her dog, Bloo
Angela Harris

October 24, 2019: One of the signs that had everyone worried was that Aniah had left her dog Bloo alone overnight. Her mother knew that was not something Aniah would do; the dog was like a baby to her.  

Desperately Searching

Walt and Angela Harris
CBS News

October 24, 2019: Angela and Walt Harris were desperately searching for Aniah from the moment they got to Auburn. They drove everywhere looking for any signs of her, including in people’s yards. They also asked the public for help on TV and social media.  

People in the community responded by organizing searches and vigils. 

Aniah’s Car Found

Aniah Blanchard's car
WIAT

October 25, 2019: Aniah’s car was found about 55 miles away from Auburn, at an apartment complex in Montgomery, Alabama. Police said the evidence inside suggested Aniah was seriously harmed.

Surveillance Images Released

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Auburn Police Department

October 28, 2019: Police release images of Aniah from October 23 – the night she went missing. The video was from a convenience store at a gas station just two minutes away from her apartment.

Police say she stopped to buy potato chips at around 11:21 p.m.

Reward Offered

Aniah Blanchard reward poster
Crimestoppers AL

October 31, 2019: A Reward for information on Aniah’s whereabouts reaches $105,000.Those funds included donations from Walt’s supporters in the UFC, including president Dana White and light heavyweight fighter Jon Jones. 

Potential Suspect ID’d

Ibraheem Yazeed surveillance
Auburn Police Department

November 6, 2019: Police release surveillance video images of a “person of interest” who was at the gas station 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.

He was out on bond on charges that he had beaten and robbed two people earlier that year.

Ibraheem Yazeed arrested

Ibraheem Yazeed
WIAT

November 7, 2019: Ibraheem Yazeed is 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.

Detective Testifies

Det. Josh Mixon
WRBL

November 20, 2019: Detective Josh Mixon from the Auburn Police Department testified during a hearing that a witness who was at the gas station the night Aniah went missing told police that he thought he saw a man force Aniah into her car. 

Remains Found

Macon County crime scene
WRBL

November 25, 2019: Authorities find human remains in a wooded area of Macon County, Alabama. Two days later, they announce the remains belong to Aniah Blanchard. 

Charges Upgraded

Ibraheem Yazeed
WRBL

December 2, 2019: Authorities  announced kidnapping charges against Yazeed will now be upgraded to capital murder, and they will seek the death penalty.

Yazeed Maintains Innocence

Ibraheem Yazeed
WRBL

December 4, 2019: Ibraheem Yazeed maintains his innocence. He’s being held in a Lee County jail awaiting trial. 

Remembering Aniah

Aniah Blanchard
Angela Harris

December 21, 2019: Aniah’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.  

Aniah’s Law

Famly members at Aniah Blanchard Day
Jennifer Golden

January 23, 2020: Angela Harris, Aniah’s mom, second from left, her father Elijah Blanchard Sr., second from right, and the entire Harris/Blanchard families are 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.