Saturday 7 December 2019

'Don't let me die before I see my grandbaby' - Newborn baby snatched from hospital 18 years ago is reunited with family

Kamiyah Mobley, now 18, was found living in South Carolina on Friday living under the name Alexis Manigo. Pictured with Gloria Williams who has been arrested for kidnapping Credit: Facebook
Kamiyah Mobley, now 18, was found living in South Carolina on Friday living under the name Alexis Manigo. Pictured with Gloria Williams who has been arrested for kidnapping Credit: Facebook
Original composite of Kamiyah Mobley and sketches released at the time the kidnapping occured. Picture: Jacksonville Sheriff's Office
Sheriff Mike Williams

Jason Dearen and Russ Bynum

A teenager who was stolen from hospital as a newborn baby has been reunited with her birth family as the woman she thought was her mother was charged with her kidnapping.

Thanks to DNA analysis, the 18-year-old now knows her birth name: Kamiyah Mobley.

She was in good health but understandably overwhelmed, Mike Williams, sheriff of Jacksonville, Florida, said.

Gloria Williams, 51, was arrested at her home in Walterboro, South Carolina, early on Friday, charged with kidnapping and interference with custody.

Ms Mobley, who was raised under her given name, Alexis Manigo, was allowed to spend a few emotional moments with Williams, crying "Momma" through the caged window of a security door after Williams waived extradition to Florida, according to WXJT-TV.

But a much different scene was described by the young woman's birth family, who cried "tears of joy" after a detective told them their baby had been found.

Within hours they were able to reconnect by video chat over FaceTime.

"She looks just like her daddy," her paternal grandmother, Velma Aiken, of Jacksonville, said, after they were able to see each other for the first time.

"She act like she been talking to us all the time. She told us she'd be here soon to see us."

Ms Mobley was only eight hours old when she was taken from her young mother by a woman posing as a nurse at Jacksonville's University Medical Centre.

A massive search followed, with helicopters circling the hospital and the city on high alert.

Thousands of tips came in over the years, but Kamiyah had disappeared.

Meanwhile, Kamiyah's neighbours in Walterboro knew her as Gloria Williams' daughter.

"She wasn't an abused child or a child who got in trouble. But she grew up with a lie for 18 years," Joseph Jenkins, who lives opposite, said.

Some months ago, the young woman "had an inclination" that she may have been kidnapped, the sheriff said, but authorities did not say why she suspected this.

The case broke thanks to a tip received by the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, said Robert Lowery, a centre vice president.

The centre reached out to cold case detectives at the sheriff's office and Ms Mobley provided a cheek swab for DNA analysis that proved the match, the sheriff said.

"This was something brand new to all of us," said Tesha Stephens, a cousin of Williams, who spoke to reporters outside their home.

The centre has tracked 308 infant abductions since 1983 by non-family members in the US.

Of those cases, 12 were still missing at the end of last month.

"Right now she's holding up," Ms Stephens said. "She's processing everything and she's probably going to have to take this day by day."

The woman has been provided with counselling, the sheriff said, and meanwhile, Ms Aiken is thrilled to know that they can speak to each other as much as they want.

"I always prayed, 'Don't let me die before I see my grandbaby'," she said. "My prayer was answered."

The family never forgot the little girl stolen from her mother's arms that day in 1998.

Kamiyah mother, Shanara Mobley, told the Florida Times-Union newspaper on the 10th anniversary of the kidnapping that on every one of Kamiyah's birthdays she wrapped a piece of birthday cake in foil and put it in her freezer.

"It's stressful to wake up every day, knowing that your child is out there and you have no way to reach her or talk to her," she told the paper in 2008.

News moved quickly through the community of about 5,100 people on Friday after police cars surrounded Williams' home.

Mr Jenkins said he awoke to see officers searching the house and the shed at the back.

"At the fish market, the hairdresser, the gas station, they're all talking about it," said Ruben Boatwright, who has known Williams for about 15 years.

Mr Jenkins' wife Lakeshia said Williams and the girl would often come over for barbecues in the garden, or join their family at a nearby water park.

Kamiyah seemed to be well cared for, and "Ms Williams, she seemed like a normal person," Mrs Jenkins said.

"She went to work, came back here and went to church every Sunday."

Williams also worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs' hospital in Charleston, volunteered in the area for Habitat for Humanity and lead the youth programme at a Methodist church, she said.

"She's very intelligent, smart as a whip," Mr Boatwright said. "All I can say are good things about her."

Mr Lowery said the case shines a beacon to many other parents still missing children.

"We have a lot of parents out there looking for their children, and have been for many years, and this provides them with additional hope that one day they may find their child," he said.

PA Media

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