The remains of 19-year-old Aniah Blanchard have been positively identified by Auburn, Ala. police following a forensic investigation into a body discovered earlier this week.
Blanchard, who is the stepdaughter of UFC heavyweight Walt Harris, had been missing since Oct. 23. Police previously stated they believed the remains were Blanchard but the full forensic investigation wasn’t confirmed until Wednesday.
“After previous searches of dozens of areas, the Auburn Police and Fire Divisions assisted by the Alabama Law Enforcement agency’s SBI Unit, a team of anthropologists from Florida Gulf Coast University, the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, the Macon County Sheriff’s Office as well as over 100 first responders from throughout the area have been examining a wooded area in the 38,000 block of County Road 2 in Shorter, Alabama, where human remains were found on Monday, Nov. 25, 2019,” Auburn Police said in a statement.
“The remains were believed to be that of Aniah Haley Blanchard who was reported missing on Oct. 24, 2019. It is with heavy hearts that we announce that the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences has positively identified the remains as those of Aniah Haley Blanchard. At this point, the case will move forward as a homicide investigation, and additional charges are forthcoming.”
Harris had put out a call for help finding his missing stepdaughter after she last spoke with a friend on the evening of Oct. 23. She was last seen at a convenience store in Auburn on surveillance footage before police got involved a day later.
Police later apprehended 30-year-old Ibraheem Yazeed and charged him with first-degree kidnapping after he was spotted in the store at the same time as Blanchard. An eyewitness later identified Yazeed as the person he saw force Blanchard into her own vehicle against her will.
The 2017 Honda CR-V belonging to Blanchard was discovered two days later at an apartment complex in Montgomery, Ala. The forensic team later announced that a “life threatening” amount of blood was found inside with evidence that led them to believe Blanchard was harmed and likely the victim of foul play.
Following Yazeed’s arrest, a second suspect named Antwain Fisher was taken into custody and also charged with first-degree kidnapping. A third suspect named David Johnson Jr. was also arrested and charged with hindering prosecution.
The kidnapping case is now being treated as a homicide investigation by police.
“I am heartbroken for the family of Aniah Blanchard,” Alabama Governor Kay Ivey said on Wednesday. “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.”