MACON COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — On Wednesday, the month-long search for Aniah Blanchard came to a tragic end as law enforcement confirmed that human remains discovered Monday in the Shorter community were those of the 19-year-old Homewood native.
“It is with heavy heart that we so confirm today that the remains are in fact of Aniah Blanchard,” Auburn Police Chief Paul Register told media outside the crime scene Wednesday afternoon. “We just received that confirmation.”
Register said Blanchard’s family had just been notified were heartbroken over the news.
“That would have been the worst scenario, is that we would not be able to find and give answers to this family,” Register said. “We have spoken with the family. Obviously, they are heartbroken, but at least they can now begin to deal with this and move forward and plan with dealing with it.”
Register previously said that investigators believed that Blanchard was the victim of foul play. The cause of her death remains under investigation.
“At this point, the case will obviously move forward as a homicide investigation at this point and, as you can expect, additional charges will be forthcoming,” Register said.
On Monday, Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes told CBS 42 that he “strongly believed” human remains that investigators were informed about in Shorter off Macon County Road 2 were those of Blanchard. No specific information has been given as to how law enforcement were told about the remains or where they were.
As for additional movement in the case, Hughes said that for now, he and investigators are currently waiting for confirmation from the coroner’s office to determine Blanchard’s cause of death and the manner of it.
“Our focus to this point has been finding Aniah and recovering her remains and getting her identified,” Hughes said. “Now that we have that process done, we’ll sit down and we’ll talk, Chief Register and I, on what the next and appropriate charges will be.”
Ibraheem Yazeed, 29, and Antwon “Squirmy” Fisher, 35, have both been charged with first-degree kidnapping in the case while David Lee Johnson Jr. has been charged with hindering prosecution. Register had previously said he believes all people involved in Blanchard’s disappearance are behind bars.
Yazeed and Fisher remain behind bars at the Lee County Detention Facility while Johnson recently posted $7,500 bond and was released from the Montgomery Jail.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey released the following statement on Blanchard’s death:
“I am heartbroken for the family of Aniah Blanchard,” Ivey said in a written press release provided by the Auburn Police Department. “Like Alabamians across our state, I was praying for a much different outcome. I will be keeping them in my prayers and ask the people of Alabama to continue to do so as well. During this holiday season, it is easy to get distracted in the hustle and bustle, but I urge us all to remember those that are hurting. I appreciate the diligence of the Auburn Police Division, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and the many volunteers who were searching for Aniah. She is indeed loved and will be remembered by us all.”
Tiffany Statum, softball coach at Homewood High School, was one teacher and coach who knew and worked with Blanchard, an alumnus of HHS. She released the following statement to CBS 42 following the identification of Blanchard’s remains:
“This past month, the entire Homewood community has been shaken, but we remain united and strong through our love for Aniah, our true Patriot. Aniah is one of those student athletes I wish I could have kept on my team forever. As a teammate, Aniah had a way of making the best of every situation with her laugh. Till this day I can close my eyes and hear her. She is what I call an impact player. As a senior she was voted by her team as the Patriot Award winner. The Patriot Award is awarded every season to one student athlete that encompasses a true Patriot. One who exhibits; exemplary character on and off of the field, leadership skills to promote a team mentality, and a true passion for others and their success. During Aniah’s time with the Homewood Softball Team, I was able to witness a young lady transform into a strong leader and positive role model for our team and community. She was committed in everything she did and she thrived on being a part of something bigger than herself while at HHS. I will continue to hold Aniah’s family and friends in my thoughts and prayers.”
Homewood City Schools also expressed their condolences for Blanchard’s family and friends.
Southern Union State Community College, where Blanchard was a student, also released a statement through Twitter:
The Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC, also released a statement expressing its condolences to Blanchard’s family. Blanchard’s stepfather, Walt Harris, is a UFC fighter.
Timeline of the Aniah Blanchard kidnapping case
Oct. 23- Aniah Blanchard, a 19-year-old student at Southern Union State Community College in Lee County, reportedly spoke to a friend on the phone, saying she was going to meet a man she met on a dating app.
Oct. 28- The Auburn Police Department releases video surveillance of Aniah Blanchard walking inside the Chevron gas station on South College Street in Auburn the night of Oct. 23. This remains the last known footage of her before she was reported missing.
Oct. 31- The reward for information on Aniah Blanchard’s whereabouts rises to over $105,000. Much of this came from the UFC and its supporters due to Aniah’s stepfather, Walt Harris, being a fighter in the UFC. The APD considers Blanchard a victim of “foul play.”
Nov. 6- The Auburn Police Department releases an image from surveillance video taken at the Chevron the same night Aniah was last seen. The department considers him a “person of interest.”
Nov. 7- The Auburn Police Department releases the name of the man from the previous day’s video. Ibraheem Yazeed, 29, of Montgomery, is considered a suspect in the case. A warrant is put out for Yazeed’s arrest. Yazeed, who has a lengthy criminal history, was previously out on bond in an unrelated kidnapping and attempted murder case in Montgomery.
U.S. Marshals located Yazeed in Escambia County, Florida and arrest him. Yazeed is subsequently charged with first-degree kidnapping and is extradited to Opelika.
Nov. 8- CBS 42 receives a copy of an affidavit in the Aniah Blanchard case. The court document states information from investigators, who said that Blanchard’s blood was found in her car from the time it was recovered in Montgomery on Oct. 25 that indicated “someone suffering a life-threatening injury.” The document also states a witness allegedly saw Yazeed forcing Blanchard in a car and leaving the scene with her inside.
No. 10- Yazeed has his first hearing in Lee County, where District Judge Russell Bush puts a gag order on the case, barring prosecutors, Yazeed’s attorneys and witnesses from speaking to the media on the case. No media were reportedly allowed at the hearing.
Nov. 14- Aniah’s mother, Angela Harris, goes on “Dr. Phil” with Walt Harris to talk about her disappearance. During the interview, the Harrises state their belief that Aniah’s kidnapping was planned ahead of time.
Nov. 14- Yazeed’s lawyer files court documents claiming that he had been receiving death threats from inmates at the Lee County Detention Facility. He is moved to solitary confinement. His lawyer Elijah Beaver also requests that Yazeed be moved to Montgomery.
Nov. 14- Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes objects to Yazeed’s motion to be moved to Montgomery, forcefully saying that it was the Montgomery criminal justice system that allowed Yazeed to bond out in an unrelated case where he is charged with kidnapping and attempted murder.
Nov. 15- Blanchard’s father, Elijah, and his wife, Yashiba, give an interview with CBS 42 where they maintained their belief that Aniah was the victim of a random carjacking, contradicting the Harrises’ earlier claims on “Dr. Phil.”
Nov. 20- During his first preliminary hearing, District Judge Russell Bush rules there is enough probable cause in the case to have it moved to a grand jury. In addition, Bush upholds Yazeed’s bond revocation and orders that he submit to a DNA test for prosecutors.
During the hearing, Detective Josh Mixon with the Auburn Police Department testified that on surveillance video, Yazeed was seen buying alcohol and looking in Blanchard’s direction while they were both at the Chevron station, the last time she was seen.
Mixon added that the witness who claimed to have seen Yazeed push Blanchard into her care against her will told a female companion about it. He claimed she told him to mind his own business.
Nov. 22- Antwon “Squirmy” Fisher was arrested and charged with first-degree kidnapping. An affidavit filed that day stated that Fisher was allegedly provided “material” assistance to Yazeed by providing transportation for him, as well as disposing evidence.
Nov. 25- Fisher has his first hearing in court, where his bond is revoked. Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes brings up that Fisher has a violent history, having pleaded guilty to murder in 2006 for his part in a drug-deal-gone bad. Fisher received a split sentence where he only spent three years behind bars
Nov. 25- Human remains are found in the woods off Macon County Road 2, not far from New Hope Baptist Church. Hughes expresses his strong belief that the remains are Aniah Blanchard’s. Law enforcement spend the night processing the scene.
Sister station WRBL in Columbus, Ga. contributed to this story.