‘Strong reason to believe’ Aniah Blanchard’s body found, DA says

(Editor’s note: This story first published at the Montgomery Advertiser, part of the USA TODAY Network.)

Authorities have “strong reason to believe” human remains found in Macon County (Ala.) are those of missing Alabama teen Aniah Blanchard, Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes confirmed Monday afternoon.

Blanchard, the stepdaughter of UFC heavyweight Walt Harris, disappeared at some point late on Oct. 23 or early on Oct. 24 from Auburn. She was last seen on video surveillance at a convenience store not far from her home.

Her last known contact was with a roommate on Oct. 23, and loved ones reported her missing the next day.

Days later, her vehicle — scraped and dented — was recovered at a Montgomery apartment complex, some 55 miles west of where the teen was last seen. Police confirmed they suspected foul play based on evidence recovered inside the vehicle.

Macon County, where Blanchard’s body is believed to have been recovered, is between Montgomery County, where her car was discovered, and Lee County, where she was last seen.

Blood “indicative of someone suffering a life-threatening injury” was discovered in the passenger’s side of Blanchard’s vehicle, according to a probable cause affidavit filed for the arrest of suspect Ibraheem Yazeed.

“During the subsequent investigation a witness identified Yazeed as the individual he observed forcing Blanchard into a vehicle against her will and then leaving with her in the vehicle” from an Auburn convenience station, the affidavit states.

The charging affidavit, filed for a first degree kidnapping charge, states the blood evidence was tested by the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences and confirmed to be Blanchard’s.

As the days continued, reward money for information in Blanchard’s disappearance jumped to $105,000 through state agencies and private donations.

Two weeks after Blanchard’s disappearance, Auburn police released photographs of 29-year-old Yazeed and issued an arrest warrant on a charge of kidnapping. Hours later, Yazeed, who has a lengthy criminal history, was captured in Escambia County, Florida, by U.S. Marshals.

Yazeed, at the time of Blanchard’s disappearance, was free on a $295,000 bond on charges of kidnapping, attempted murder, robbery and possession of marijuana in connection to the beating of two men in a Montgomery hotel in January. His criminal record stretched to 2011, when he was charged with robbery and attempted murder the year after. Those charges were ultimately dismissed at separate grand juries, according to court records.

Auburn police Chief Paul Register said during a conference that it’s still unknown if Blanchard was familiar with Yazeed prior to the alleged kidnapping.

“We don’t have any reason to know that she was familiar with him but we certainly can’t rule out completely that there would have been some knowledge,” the chief said. “But at this point we don’t have knowledge she knew him.”

Antwain Shamar “Squirmy” Fisher, 35, was arrested by the Auburn Police Department in Montgomery on Friday night, according to Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes.

Fisher, like Yazeed, was charged with first-degree kidnapping in Blanchard’s disappearance. According to Fisher’s charging documents, he disposed of evidence and provided transportation for Yazeed. The records do not say what evidence he is alleged to have handled.

Fisher is to be held without bond, Lee County Judge Steven Speak ruled Monday. Fisher will appear for a preliminary hearing Dec. 18 at 9 a.m.

Throughout the ordeal, Blanchard’s parents and step parents continued to hold out hope for her safe return. Her father, Elijah Blanchard, described his daughter as a nurturing person.

“She’s not a mean person. I’ve never heard her say anything bad about anybody,” he said in an earlier interview. “She was always a forgiving person, she has a heart of gold and would do anything to help anyone who needed it.”

Blanchard, a student at a Lee County community college, was a native of Homewood, Ala., a suburb of Birmingham.

She loved playing softball in high school, Elijah Blanchard said, so much so that he once asked if she might consider walking on to a college team. But Aniah wanted to concentrate on getting her general education classes out of the way, her father said, as she decided what she might want to concentrate on for her studies. Like so many early college students, she wanted to consider several paths open at her feet: art, education, maybe business.

“I want everybody to know that my daughter is a good person, all the way around. I’m not just saying that because she’s my daughter,” Elijah Blanchard said. “It’s evident she was special to so many people.”

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