'Momma is no felon': torment of girl who was stolen at birth
A tearful 18-year-old supports her 'mother' in court - while her biological family speak of their joy at finding her, writes Ruth Sherlock in Washington
It was the moment that summed up the whirlwind of confused emotions that must have consumed 18-year-old Kamiyah Mobley.
Less than 24 hours after discovering she had been abducted at birth from a Florida hospital, Kamiyah found herself in a South Carolina courtroom staring across at the woman who - until very recently - she had no reason to doubt was her biological mother.
That woman, 51-year-old Gloria Williams, was now sitting behind a protective screen facing charges of kidnapping Kamiyah when she was just eight hours old.
Overnight she had gone from a mother to a kidnapper.
But Kamiyah showed no trace of anger towards the woman who had brought her up, at one point walking over to Williams and touching her hands through the screen. "I love you," she was heard to say to the woman she still called "Momma".
Williams, whose mother, father and pastor were also present, was seen blowing a kiss to her family. She is reported to have suffered a miscarriage a week before the abduction.
Yesterday, Kamiyah again defended the woman who raised her - almost from birth - in Walterboro, South Carolina, a small, racially mixed town of 5,000 people, 50 miles west of Charleston, where the family moved seven years ago.
"My mother raised me with everything I needed and most of all everything I wanted," Kamiyah wrote on Facebook. "My mother is no felon."
Pictures posted on social media showed the two riding happily together in a car and Kamiyah with her high school friends.
"Momma" was the single word that Kamiyah later cried through the grille of a security door as Williams was extradited to Florida, where she now faces charges of kidnapping.
The case broke after a tip-off to the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children led police to the home of Williams where they identified Kamiyah as the missing child of Shanara Mobley, abducted from a hospital room in Jacksonville, Florida, on July 10, 1998. DNA swabs and analysis of fraudulent documents used to register Kamiyah's "birth" by Williams quickly confirmed that the young woman who knew herself as Alexis Manigo was in fact Kamiyah Mobley.
Grainy footage, recorded on CCTV, showed pictures of a woman dressed as a nurse leaving the University Medical Centre, Florida, with the baby in her arms wrapped in a pink and blue blanket.
But despite Kamiyah's apparent loyalty to her "mother", her biological family 200 miles away in Florida appeared to be overwhelmed by the news that the child they had lost was now found. They were reunited via a FaceTime videochat, according to police.
"I always hoped and prayed that this day would happen," Kamiyah's father, Craig Aiken, told a local TV station. "I never gave up, you never lose hope, no matter how much time passes."
Velma Aiken, Kamiyah's grandmother, said the family were taking things very slowly.
"I saw her the day that she was taken and I haven't seen her since and I don't want to scare her away," she said. "So I'm going slow motion."
"She's [Kamiyah] taking it as well as you can imagine," added Mike Williams, the sheriff of Jacksonville. "She has a lot to think about."
Kamiyah had only begun to suspect a couple of months ago that her past might not be altogether normal, he said, but declined to give any further details.
On Friday, investigators called retired detectives who had tried to find the missing baby to tell them of the latest development in the case, which had included 2,500 tip-offs from the public over the years.
"She looks just like her daddy," added Velma Aiken of her granddaughter after they were able to see each other for the first time. "She acts like she been talking to us all the time. She told us she'd be here soon to see us."
Velma Aiken said she was thrilled to know that they can speak with 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."
Her mother Shanara Mobley told The Florida Times-Union newspaper in 2008 that every year on her daughter's birthday she had wrapped a piece of birthday cake in foil and put it in the 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 said.
Tesha Stephens, a cousin of Williams, said of Kamiyah: "Right now she's holding up. She's processing everything and she's probably going to have to take this day-by-day."