Inside the Aniah Blanchard Case as a Suspect Awaits Trial

On Oct

Published Time: 07.07.2024 - 16:23:50 Modified Time: 07.07.2024 - 16:23:50

On Oct. 23, 2019, Aniah Blanchard messaged her roommate just before midnight saying she would be home soon. That was the last time anyone would ever hear from the 19-year-old college student and stepdaughter of UFC fighter Walt Harris, he told PEOPLE in 2019.

After not coming home the next day and her loved ones not being able to reach her, Harris said the family called police. 

According to police, Blanchard was last seen on surveillance video that night inside a convenience store in Auburn, Ala., before getting into her black 2017 Honda CR-V and driving southbound.

Two days after Blanchard, a student at Southern Union Community College, was reported missing, police found her car nearly 60 miles away at an apartment complex in Montgomery, Ala., PEOPLE previously reported. Police said at the time that the CR-V had visible dents and scratches to the right bumper that it didn’t have when she went missing.

According to a police affidavit previously obtained by CBS News, undisclosed evidence recovered from the abandoned car led Auburn police to believe Blanchard suffered a "life-threatening injury."

As the investigation progressed, authorities identified Ibraheem Yazeed as a person of interest in the case after video surveillance showed him inside the convenience store where Blanchard was last seen.

Court records cited by the Associated Press state a witness allegedly saw Yazeed force Blanchard into her car outside the store.

Yazeed was then arrested on suspicion of first-degree kidnapping in Florida on Nov. 8, 2019, after a warrant was issued for his arrest in connection with Blanchard’s disappearance, the Montgomery Advertiser reported. About two weeks later, two additional suspects were arrested and charged in the case.

According to the Montgomery Advertiser, WVTM-TV, and WSFA, Antwain “Squirmy” Fisher was charged with first-degree kidnapping while David Johnson Jr. was charged with hindering prosecution, authorities said.

It’s unclear if the two additional suspects have entered pleas or retained attorney's to speak on their behalf. Due to a gag order issued by the judge, it's also unclear what police believe their involvement is in the case.

On Nov. 25, 2019, about a month after she was reported missing, Blanchard’s remains were recovered in a wooded area in Macon County, Ga., according to a press release from the Alabama Attorney General’s Office. Her cause of death was determined to be a gunshot wound.

A grand jury indicted Yazeed in November -

2022 on one count of capital murder during a kidnapping, one count of capital murder during robbery, and one count of capital murder involving a victim in a vehicle, per the release.

According to the AP, Yazeed, then 33, pleaded not guilty to all charges in March 2023. He was reportedly being held in the Lee County Detention Center in Alabama without bond. Yazeed’s lawyer, William Whatley told PEOPLE, “I cannot comment on this case at this time. There is not a trial date set in Macon County Circuit Court at this time.”

An indictment cited by the attorney general’s office alleges Yazeed “did intentionally cause the death of Blanchard by shooting her with a gun during the course of abducting her and robbing her of a vehicle and cell phone,” according to the release. Authorities suspect Yazeed killed Blanchard while she was inside her car.

According to the Montgomery Advertiser, Yazeed was out on bond on unrelated kidnapping and attempted murder charges at the time of Blanchard’s death. PEOPLE couldn’t immediately confirm the current status of those charges.

The outlet also reported that Aniah’s Law, which allows a judge to deny bail to violent offenders, was passed in Alabama in November 2022.

Blanchard’s case was recently the focus of CBS’ 48 Hours. In a clip shared to TikTok of the June 29 episode titled “Fighting for Aniah,” Blanchard’s roommate, Sarah O'Brien, revealed that one of Blanchard’s biggest fears was being “kidnapped or murdered.”

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“Like as soon as she walked in, she would check every room,” O’Brien says in the clip. “She would tell me multiple times, like, she had nightmares about it happening to her.” 

Following Aniah’s death, her mother, Angela Harris, made it her mission to help other families search for their missing loved ones, PEOPLE previously reported. She has since founded Aniah’s Heart, a non-profit organization that provides resources to assist families searching for a missing loved one, as well as sharing important education to help prevent future violent acts.

According to the attorney general’s office, Yazeed faces the death penalty or a sentence of life in prison without parole for each of the three charges of capital murder, if convicted.

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