Aniah Blanchard has finally been found.
Investigators said the remains of the 19-year-old Southern Union State Community College student’s remains were positively identified in Macon County on Wednesday.
Auburn police Chief Paul Register made the announcement Wednesday afternoon.
“We have spoken with the family,” he said. “Obviously, they are heartbroken.”
The Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences positively identified the remains found Monday in the 38000 block of County Road 2 in Shorter as those of Blanchard, thanks to help from a team of forensic anthropologists from Florida Gulf Cost University’s Department of Justice Studies, Register said.
Blanchard was last seen Oct. 23 at the Chevron convenience store on South College Street in Auburn. She was reported missing the next day. Remains were found several feet into the wood line after a brief search, police said.
Blanchard’s 2017 black Honda CR-V was recovered Oct. 25 at an apartment complex in Montgomery. Blood evidence was found in the passenger side of her vehicle “... that was indicative of someone suffering a life-threatening injury,” an arrest affidavit says.
Investigators also found a witness who claimed to see a young woman matching Blanchard’s description being forced into the car while parked in the Chevron lot.
The witness to the incident in the Chevron lot told police the assailant looked like Ibraheem Yazeed.
“He said he observed Blanchard and a black male, later positively identified as Ibraheem Yazeed, at the store at the same time and he observed Yazeed forcing Blanchard into her vehicle against her will and then leaving with her in that vehicle,” Auburn police Detective Josh Mixon testified during Yazeed’s preliminary hearing.
Yazeed, 30, and Antwon, also known as Antwain, “Squirmy” Shamar Fisher, 35, both of Montgomery, are charged with first- degree kidnapping in connection with Blanchard’s disappearance.
A third person, David Lee Johnson Jr., 63, was arrested Monday and charged with hindering prosecution.
Auburn police believe everyone involved in this case is now in custody.
The confirmation of Blanchard being located was an ending many people throughout the community, state and nation were not hoping for.
“I am heartbroken for the family of Aniah Blanchard,” Gov. Kay Ivey said. “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. She is indeed loved and will be remembered by us all.”
Since the confirmation of Blanchard being located, community members have been taking to social media to share their remorse and support for her family.
“I am so very sorry that this sweet child was taken before her time,” Charline Parker Bregartner commented on an Opelika-Auburn News Facebook post. “My prayers go out to her family and all who knew and loved Aniah.”
Register hopes that by finding Blanchard, her family will begin to form a path to move forward.
“At least they can now begin to deal with this and move forward and plan for dealing with it,” he said.
A candlelight vigil for Blanchard was held Tuesday night in Birmingham, where her mother, Angela Haley-Harris, spoke for the first time since the remains were located.
“You never think that something like this is going to happen to your child,” she said. “But nothing you do can prepare you for some evil that is out there.”
Yazeed, Fisher and Johnson could face more charges now that the case is a homicide investigation; however, those will not be decided until more testing is done.
“Obviously, now that we have a death, what we’re still waiting on is confirmation from the medical examiner’s office as far as a cause of death and a manner of death,” Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes said.
“Our focus to this point has been finding Aniah and recovering her remains and getting her identified. Now that we have that process done we’ll sit down and we’ll talk through, Chief Register and I, on what the next and appropriate charges will be.”
Yazeed is being held without bond in the Lee County Jail.
Fisher was charged more than two weeks after Yazeed. He is believed to have helped transport Yazeed and disposed of evidence, according to the arrest affidavit obtained Monday by the Opelika-Auburn News. Fisher was granted a $50,000 bond Monday afternoon but remains in the Lee County Jail as of 3:40 p.m. Wednesday, according to jail records.
Johnson was charged days after Fisher. He is believed to have lied to investigators by telling them that he saw Yazeed leave a residence “with an unknown white female in an unknown vehicle,” according to a court affidavit filed Tuesday.
Johnson admitted later that he knew Yazeed was wanted the “first time officers came to the residence and that he saw him leave with his son, David Lee Johnson III,” on Nov. 7, the affidavit reads.
Johnson was booked into the Montgomery County Jail and was later released on bond.
SearchesAuburn Police and Fire Divisions, Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s State Bureau of Investigation Unit, a team of anthropologists from Florida Gulf Coast University, the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences and the Macon County Sheriff’s Office along with more than 100 first responders have been examining the wooded area where the remains were found in order to collect evidence, said police.
Investigators will remain searching the area on County Road 2 until they feel the have all the evidence they need.
“We will be here until the job is done,” Register said Wednesday. “Surely we’ll be here until the night, and we’ll have to see after that.”
Texas EquuSearch joined the search for Blanchard on Nov. 4 and helped search for nine days before leaving. The group returned a few days after its departure but left Alabama again due to the beginning of hunting season.