Aniah Blanchard: Person of interest sought; family attends Birmingham prayer vigil – AL.com
Police are trying to identify a man who was inside the Auburn convenience store where Aniah Blanchard was last seen.
Investigators late Wednesday afternoon released images of the man. He is a black male wearing dark-colored pants, dark-colored shoes and a camouflage-colored hooded jacket with “Vans” in white writing across the back. The unknown man was seen leaving the area in what is described as a late 2000’s model Lincoln Town Car, silver or grey in color.
“As part of the ongoing joint investigation with the Auburn Police Division and the Montgomery Police Department into Aniah’s disappearance, investigators are seeking to identify the individual in the video and speak with him,’’ officials said in a press release.
The latest development comes on the two-week anniversary of Blanchard’s disappearance and also just as family and friends gathered Wednesday at Sixth Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham for a vigil for Blanchard. Her father, Elijah Blanchard, and stepmother, Yashiba Blanchard, are in attendance at the vigil.
Auburn police officials notified the family that they would be releasing the image of the person of interest just before they walked into the vigil held at their home church. “It brings some kind of relief that something is being done,” Yashiba Blanchard said. “We need some type of closure.
More than 250 people attended Wednesday’s vigil, including Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr, Bessemer Cutoff District Attorney Lynneice Washington, State Rep. Merika Coleman, and former Birmingham City Councilman Jay Roberson. There were prayers for Blanchard’s safe return home. Her father and stepmother of more than 10 years spoke briefly.
“I can seriously tell you for the last two weeks I have felt God’s presence. His presence has kept me going,” said Elijah Blanchard, who thanked friends, family and even strangers for displaying blue ribbons in his daughter’s honor, and for all the messages and calls of support.
“It has really helped my family get through this terrible, terrible time,” he said. “People ask me how am I holding up. I’m holding up because the God I serve does not allow me to fail.”
“Who would have ever thought a young lady named Aniah could pull so many hearts together?;” he said. “I thank you from the depths of my heart.”
Yashiba Blanchard asked those in attendance to continue to pray. “Call Aniah’s name in your prayers,” she said. “There’s power in prayer. We just ask you pray that she’s returned home to us safely.”
Blanchard, a Southern Union College student from Homewood, was officially reported missing Thursday, Oct. 24. She last communicated with a friend late on the night of Oct. 23. Police said her vehicle was seen in the early-morning hours of Oct. 24 along South College Street.
Police recovered the teen’s black 2017 Honda CRV from an apartment complex on the 6100 block of Boardwalk Boulevard in Montgomery around 6:15 p.m. the following evening, which was Friday. A citizen reported the vehicle to police.
Auburn police Capt. Lorenza Dorsey said Blanchard’s vehicle had been damaged sometime between the last time it was seen in Auburn and Friday night.
Authorities the following week released a small portion of a video showing Blanchard making a purchase at a convenience store located on South College Street that Wednesday night/Thursday morning just prior to her vehicle being observed traveling southbound on South College Street.
Widespread speculation that she went Wednesday night to meet someone from a dating app is just that and has not been confirmed in any official capacity. It is unlike Blanchard, family said, to leave on her own. The video footage of her at a gas station in the early-morning hours does not match up with the young woman they have always known.
One week ago, a task force of 60 investigators was officially formed including the FBI, the U.S. Marshals, the Department of Homeland Security, the Lee County District Attorney’s Office, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, Alabama Fusion Center and the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and the Opelika Police Department.
On Thursday, Oct. 31, authorities announced Blanchard is now considered to be a victim of foul play and said evidence found in her damaged vehicle, which was examined by the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, indicated she had been harmed.
Reward money in the case stands at $105,000. UFC President Dana White, UFC fighter Jon Jones, Dominance MMA CEO Ali Abdelaziz, and an anonymous Homewood family all contributed $25,000 toward the reward money while Gov. Kay Ivey’s office pledged $5,000.
Searches for Blanchard, suspects and any new evidence have continued, though police have slowed the number of updates released to the media and the public. The searches have been done by land and air, and focused on Auburn, Montgomery and the expansive area between the two cities.
The non-profit group EquuSearch from Texas this week joined the search for Blanchard. Founder Tim Miller’s daughter was abducted and murdered in North Galveston County, Texas in 1984. Her body wasn’t found until two years later.
Since founding Texas EquuSearch in 2000, Miller and his team of volunteers have been involved in more than 1,800 searchs in 42 states, as well as multiple other countries. Miller says EquuSearch is responsible for recovering the remains of hundreds of people. The group assisted in the high-profile search for Natalee Holloway, who vanished while on a graduation trip to Aruba. Though declared legally dead, her remains have never been found.
Blanchard is described as a light-complexioned black female, 5 feet 6-inches tall and about 125 pounds. She has brown eyes and brown hair and was last seen wearing a black dress and tan duck boots with black stockings.
Anyone with information about Blanchard’s disappearance or how the vehicle was damaged, is asked to call police at 334-501-3140, the anonymous tip line at 334-246-1391 or the 24-hour non-emergency number at 334-501-3100. Tips to Crime Stoppers can be made through the 24-hour tip line at 215-STOP (7867), through the P3-tips app, on the web at www.215STOP.com or via the Central Alabama Crime Stoppers Facebook page.
Roy S. Johnson contributed to this report.