HOMEWOOD, Ala. (WBRC) - One year ago, on October 23, Homewood native Aniah Blanchard disappeared. Her family, friends, and the community hoped and prayed so hard for her safe return.
After several anguishing days we learned she’d been kidnapped from a store in Auburn never to be seen alive again.
Her body was found in Macon County a month later. Officers say she died of a gunshot wound.
The man charged with her death now in jail, was out on bond for other violent crimes when police say he took Aniah against her will.
Now Aniah’s mother, Angela Hailey-Harris, has made it her life’s purpose to save others, all in the name of her beloved daughter.
I spent a few moments with Angela, a heartbroken but brave woman, who shows incredible strength even through her tears.
This is that interview:
Angela: I’m still in disbelief that I can’t call her, can’t touch her and feel her, but I’m still in shock. But with the hurt, pain and anger, I want to remember my daughter celebrate her life.
Janice: You’re sitting on the bench dedicated to her, what does that mean to you?
Angela: It means I know she was so loved, brings me back to memories with her friends here at the park.
Janice: This is the first time you’ve been back?
Angela: It is. Because I knew that when I would sit here I would do this. I want to do this. It’s the love I have for her, I want to let it out.
Janice: You now try to help others.
Angela: Because I feel like it would be what Aniah would want. She gave her life. She fought for other people to be saved. I’m gonna continue for other people to be saved. I can hear her telling me to do it. I heard her voice from the time she went missing, ‘Mom this is something you’ve got to do something about it.’
Janice: Was it her spirit that kept you going?
Angela: The hope. The wanting her to be OK. We had to know. We have to find her, and save her and also, if she wasn’t, we needed to know.
Angela: You never get closure, but I will say knowing does help because the days of not knowing are so agonizing. Because as a mom you’re thinking I’ve got to get to my child. I’ve got to find her. I don’t think I would have stopped. I’ve got to find Aniah.
Janice: When did you feel that moment?
Angela: I can say that. I don’t know why this is before they found her car in Montgomery. I can’t explain the bond we had. I feel like we were one person. About 4 p.m. that day we were in the truck in Auburn looking for her, and all of the sudden I got this gasp of air. Something came out of me. I think I felt it like that was her taking her last breath -- I felt it.
Janice: And then the celebration of her life...
Angela: I knew that I would never be able to give Aniah away, a baby shower, graduation. And I would never be able to give her anything anymore, wanted it to be special.
Janice: It has changed your life forever, your mission is different now.
Angela: My mission now is to save the world that is how I feel. I know I can’t save the world, but I’m gonna try. Aniah’s Law is one of the most amazing things. Our state needs it so bad. It will keep violent offenders from being out on the street out on bond.
Janice: How will you mark this anniversary, what will you do?
Angela: A celebration. I want to honor her. Do things that she would love. Her little sister wants to sing - write a letter to her - remember good times with Aniah, just be together. Everyday I can hear her - what would she say to me? And I just ask her ‘Aniah help me. Help me understand.' Because she was always my rock and I still need her. I ask her to help me and I ask her what to do about things. I just tell her I love her. I’m glad she was mine.
Even though there was a memorial for Aniah, there was never a burial. That’s because, as part of the investigation, authorities kept Aniah’s remains for several months. They have been released. Angela and her family will bury Aniah November 7, 2020.
If you’d like learn more about Angela’s nonprofit Aniah’s Heart you can find it by clicking here.
Our thoughts and prayers are with you Angela and your entire family.