JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The early years certainly did not resemble how most people envision the benchmark moments in life.
She was born to a teen who became pregnant at the age of 15. Her father, a 22-year-old, was in jail on the day of her birth. A few months later Craig Aiken was returned to jail after police learned he was the man who impregnated an underage Shanara Mobley.
By now many people knew the name Kamiyah Mobley, the newborn abducted from a Jacksonville hospital in 1998. They worried about the infant and her young mother. They worried for the sake of future children and parents everywhere.
Where was she? How could it happen? Could it happen again?
Aiken and Mobley missed Baby Kamiyah’s first tooth. They weren’t there when she toddled on unsteady legs or when she came home from school swooning over a special crush.
Likewise they missed her graduation from Colleton County High in Walterboro, South Carolina. But still, they dreamed about future benchmarks and how one day they’d be there. First they’d have to find Kamiyah. That day came one year ago.
The year since has been filled with joy over the discovery that Kamiyah Mobley is alive. The year also was filled with sadness for their long-lost daughter for what’s to going to happen to the woman who raised her. Gloria Bolden Williams, 52, is jailed in Jacksonville awaiting either a trial or a plea deal on kidnapping and interference with custody charges.
The year also was filled with resilience and hope for a father determined to not allow anger over what he missed out on interfere with what he is building: future benchmarks moments in life with his daughter.
A footprint and grainy video
When Kamiyah was born, a woman in medical scrubs lingered around the teenage mother and her newborn daughter for five hours at the hospital. Kamiyah’s mom thought for sure the woman was a nurse. Nurses, in turn, figured the woman was a family member.
When Kamiyah was just 8 hours old, this nurse-/family-like figure said she feared the newborn had a fever and needed to be properly checked out. And off she went with her pocketbook and the swaddled infant in her arms. She brushed past Aiken’s mother as she walked out of the room and eventually out of the hospital and out of Jacksonville.
A footprint and a grainy video image was all Mobley and Aikens had of Kamiyah.
Neither a $250,000 reward from the University Medical Center — what is now UF Health Jacksonville — nor the extensive manpower from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and beyond at the time could piece together the fractured family.
A few years after her disappearance, the hospital paid Mobley $1.2 million in a settlement and then inked a deal to pay her some $3,000 in cash a month for life — the latter she later cashed out in advance. A lawsuit on behalf of Aiken and the losses he suffered was thrown out of court, Aiken told the Times-Union recently.
Over the years the parents waited. They dreamed. They wondered.
On the 10th anniversary of Kamiyah’s birth — and her disappearance — a tearful Mobley sat down with the Times-Union.
“I wonder, what does she look like?” she asked then. “How smart is she? Does she have long pretty hair? Does she have my eyelashes?”
Aiken too questioned over the years if the daughter he never met was attending the same events, shopping at the same stores — walking right by him with neither of them aware of the other’s existence at that very moment.
As much as those feelings tugged at his heart, he never gave up hope, he said. In fact, on New Year’s Day a year ago, Aiken announced to his wife, Shannon, that 2017 would be the year they find Kamiyah. She’s 18, not only an adult, but likely savvy with the ever-improving technology, he reasoned. Certainly this would be the year — the benchmark moment he had been dreaming about, right?
Two weeks later, he and Mobley were driving to South Carolina after Jacksonville police showed up at Williams’ home in Walterboro with a search warrant and arrested her. As it turned out, Williams’ long-carried secret was let out. Records reveal that twice in 2016 the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was contacted and told a young woman who goes by the name Alexis Manigo in Walterboro was in fact Baby Kamiyah of Jacksonville, the child at the center of a nationwide search after her abduction by a woman impersonating a nurse.
On Jan. 14, 2017 Mobley, Aiken and their daughter all mugged for a selfie at the Walterboro Police Department. Finally the benchmark moment they envisioned for over 18 years was happening.
‘I love you, Ma’
The news stung at first.
Shortly after Williams was arrested on kidnapping and interference with custody charges — crimes that if she is convicted of could land her in prison for life — a tearful young woman pleaded that Williams was not a criminal.
“My mother raised me with everything I needed and most of all everything I wanted,” she posted on social media. “My mother is no felon.”
During a court appearance in South Carolina, she cried out: “I love you, Ma.”
Aiken and Mobley also learned that Kamiyah, who was and still goes by Alexis Kelli Manigo, had been told 1½ years before anyone else that she was in fact Kamiyah Mobley.
Shanara Mobley also went on Facebook last year to share her feelings: “I’m really confused and depressed right now,” she wrote. “The tears won’t stop. I see my baby wanting this lady in her life and not me. When I found out about my baby, I stopped everything and got to where you are and still hurting like that 16-year-old little girl all over again.
“Kamiyah, If you see this, know you are your mother’s child. Your whole character is me. You can never get rid of that love Babygirl.”
In the past year, Mobley has avoided the spotlight. She has not returned numerous phone calls for an interview.
Aiken’s voiced cracked with emotion when contacted by the Times-Union about his lost daughter’s knowledge of her kidnapping early last year.
Today, he said, he is no longer going to get bogged down in emotions other than the utter joy for having the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be father to his daughter. His daughter makes No. 8 in terms of the children that he and his wife have.
“Our relationship is just like normal,” he said. “I know people don’t understand it, but it is like she never left. It is like everything just fell into place. I guess it is going along like it is meant to be.”
Meant to be is fighting to get his daughter’s birth certificate — which she now has — and getting a Social Security number so she can do things like get a driver’s license or valid ID, get a job, go to college, visit Williams in a jail — all things she cannot do without proper identification.
While growing up in South Carolina as Alexis, she had fraudulent documents placed in her school records file, court records show. When she went to get a job, Williams told her how she was taken from a Jacksonville hospital. The teen shared that with someone else. The secret was shared again leading to Williams’ arrest Jan. 13 one year ago after the girl’s DNA was tested.
Documenting a life
Getting documents will be yet another step in paving her future.
“My wife and I have been trying to do it for her. We know how important it is and we won’t take no for an answer,” Aiken said.
The young woman will also have to decide on a name. Will she choose Kamiyah? Or stick with the only name she knew for all those years, Alexis. Or will it be some variation or something all her own?
Aiken said he thinks his daughter is leaning toward Kamiyah, but the decision is hers and hers alone to make.
“Whatever she decides after that, I just want people to accept it — to accept her,” he said.
Building on that acceptance has meant many trips from Jacksonville to Walterboro for Aiken and his daughter.
The Times-Union spoke at length with Aiken while he made the drive north to get his daughter a few days before Christmas. Aiken’s giddiness was apparent.
He said her visits to Jacksonville have been gradually getting longer and that fills him with joy.
“I’m all smiles now,” he said as he headed up Interstate 95 last month to bring her back for Christmas in the same year he predicted that she would be found.
“I never lost hope. How could you lose hope? I just never did. I knew this day would come. You just can’t give up,” he said.
‘I’m the biggest winner’
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, there are still 15 people who have been abducted as infants across the United States since 1965 that are still unaccounted for.
Since that time, there have been 323 infant abductions. Florida ranks third in the nation with 26 abductions in the last 52 years. Only six states — Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Vermont, Hawaii and Alaska — have no reported infant abductions in that time frame.
The Kamiyah case is pretty much text-book scenario: A young woman of child-bearing age abducts a newborn in a hospital after posing as a medical worker.
During a “Good Morning America” appearance shortly after Williams’ arrest last year, Manigo had this to say about her abductor, the woman who reared her.
“I understand what she did was wrong, but just don’t lock her up and throw away the key. She loved me for 18 years. She cared about me for 18 years. I just want people to realize I will never have malice for her. I will always love her.”
Aiken said his daughter’s feelings come before his and they always will.
“I’ve had plenty of practice with kids,” he said. “I have eight children and three grandchildren. When you have a kid, you cannot worry about your feelings. You have to worry about their feelings. And I won’t put my feelings ahead of her.
“Even though I might want to get some things off my chest,” he said, pausing. “We talk. I listen.”
As the tentative February trial date — or possible plea deal — moves closer, Aiken fully anticipates a great deal more listening on his part when it comes to his daughter.
“I probably know more about Gloria than I want to,” he said acknowledging that it isn’t always easy.
“But me telling her how much I hate this lady isn’t (the answer),” he said.
He said each day, each conversation — even if it’s about Williams — is a day he dreamed about for all those years.
“I’m learning just like everyone else,” he said. “It’s a learning process. I’m going through my method.
“I don’t have a psychiatrist and I didn’t get a settlement, I got nothing with that. But I got my child back. And guess what? I feel like I am the biggest winner. I’m on my way up to go get her right now. . I’m riding to go get her — MY DAUGHTER.”
And with that, another benchmark moment was made.
Information from: The (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union, http://www.jacksonville.com