Former Jacksonville police officer 'vividly' remembers 1998 kidnapping

Gil Smith recounts working for JSO when Kamiyah Mobley taken from hospital

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For one former police officer, the date July 10, 1998 will forever be ingrained his mind. That day, a newborn baby was taken from a Jacksonville hospital and seemingly vanished into thin air. 

So when News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith learned Friday that Kamiyah Mobley had been found alive in South Carolina 18 years later, he was in shock.

"As soon as I heard the name the name Kamiyah Mobley, it took me right back to 1998," Smith said. 

That's when Smith was working for the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and, like so many others, gripped by the abduction case. He recounted what it was like when it became a national story.

"I remember it quite vividly because it really consumed the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. They took this case so seriously, looking everywhere, trying to find this child," he said. 

Friday's news spread quickly among the law enforcement community, Smith said, and almost everyone had the same reaction. 

"I’ve been talking to police officers who are now retired, who are no longer with Sheriff’s Office, and they’re just so excited and glad that the child was found alive because, after 18 years, they just didn’t know what the outcome would be so for the child to be found alive," Smith said. "People are just so excited about it."

But now, Smith said, the focus will shift to the most tragic part of this outcome -- the young woman learning that the woman she thought was her biological mother, Gloria Williams, had been charged with her kidnapping. 

"She was referring to Gloria as, 'Mom.' Knowing now that she has her real biological parents that she’s going to meet, and all this time thinking that Gloria was her mother, so she’s going to really have a rough road for a long time," Smith said. 

After nearly two decades of people holding out hope, the case is now making national headlines again. 

Smith said he hopes the 18-year-old will have the support she needs to adjust to her true identity.

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.”

Impact on other cold cases

So, what does all of this mean for other cold cases? Hope for other parents with missing children that, one day, they will be reunited with their children.

“The dynamics of this are different than any other crime against a child,” said Jay Howell, founder of the Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “Because her caretaker has now been identified as a perpetrator and charged with a crime.”

Howell, who lives in Jacksonville, said leads on cold cases come in every day.

“When we started that in ‘84, we had no idea this would happen -- that there would be hope in the long-term cases,” Howell said. “(Or) that we would actually see recoveries after decades.”

VIDEO: Case could serve as hope

Sheriff Mike Williams said more than 2,500 tips came in over the years. Aiding that hope is newer and much-improved technology that allows authorities to stay on top of cold cases.

“Technology -- the pictures we’ve used (of) missing kids, the technology of the 800-line and the (leads) and tips have worked,” Howell said.

Needless to say, news of an 18-year-old woman being identified as someone abducted as an infant only helps other families keep hope alive.

“And of course, every time they see this, they get renewed hope that something good may happen in their case as well,” Howell said.

Professionals within Howell’s organization will work with victims, but Howell said that will take many months.

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