JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Eighteen years after their newborn daughter was abducted from a Jacksonville hospital, Shanara Mobley and Craig Aiken got the news they had been praying for.
Kamiyah Mobley was found alive and safe in South Carolina, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office announced Friday. Her biological family plans to drive up Saturday morning to meet the 18-year-old, News4Jax learned.
She had been living under the name Alexis Manigo, raised by the woman police said kidnapped her from University Medical Center (now UF Health) in 1998.
“I always hoped and prayed for this day to happen. I never gave up,” Aiken said. “You never lose hope, no matter how much time passes. You never give up. I just always felt she was alive. I always felt she was going to find us.”
Aiken and Mobley were told Thursday night that DNA evidence had confirmed a young woman living in South Carolina was their long-lost girl.
Police said the newborn was taken in July 1998 by Gloria Williams, who posed as a nurse to get close to Shanara Mobley and then took the baby under the pretense of getting her medical treatment.
Instead, she left the hospital with the hours-old child and wasn't found for 18 years.
VIDEO: Mobley's attorney reacts
Mobley's attorney, Wayne Alford, told News4Jax on Friday that Mobley never lost hope, and even baked a cake every year on her daughter's birthday. He said she's thrilled that this year they can celebrate the day together.
Case troubled former sheriff
Nat Glover, who was Jacksonville's sheriff at the time of the abduction, said the case was always in the back of his mind.
"As a law enforcement officer, you think about the cases that you didn't solve, that kind of hang around in your mind, and that was one of them,” Glover said. “Those are the ones that cause you to maybe lose a few nights of sleep, wondering if you had covered all the bases.”
He said he always believed the sheriff's office might get a tip that would lead them to the girl. That tip came late last year, according to current Sheriff Mike Williams.
“We received two leads that took us to Walterboro, South Carolina,” Sheriff Williams said at the news conference Friday. “Those began the ball rolling for us and got us to South Carolina and here today.”
Alexis, now 18, had been raised believing Gloria Williams was her biological mother.
All the while, her real biological family prayed for her safe return.
“A lot of times you pray and pray and think things aren't going to happen. But God done made it happen,” said Velma Aiken, Craig's mother. “I'm just so happy. I'll be glad when she gets here so we can celebrate.”
Kidnapped girl connects with family
Velma Aiken said Alexis spoke to them on FaceTime and said she'd be coming down soon to meet them in person. Alexis also had a heartfelt conversation with Shanara, Alford said, and plans to reunite with her soon.
“I know God answers prayers, and I just always thought it would happen one day, but I didn't have any idea it was going to be this day,” Velma Aiken said.
Craig Aiken, who was in jail when Alexis was born, said he can't wait to meet his daughter for the first time.
“Words can't describe the way I feel,” he said. “It's just crazy. I'm just glad it's over with. After 18 years it still seems like yesterday.”
Aiken, who was 19 at the time, had been arrested for lewd assault because Shanara was only 15 years old when she got pregnant. She was 16 when the baby was born.
Aiken said he was just happy to learn his daughter was safe.
“We had a nice conversation. We laughed. We got to know each other a little bit," Aiken said. "I just can't wait for her to come here, so I can be with her for the first time."
He also thanked the detectives who never stopped looking for his little girl.
“Even when we thought they weren't working on (it), they were still working on it. I have to tell those people thank you for what they've done," Aiken said. “I just want to thank the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, the detectives, for sticking with it, for the tips. For everybody that had a part in it, I appreciate you.”