Faces of missing fuel motivation to keep searching

News4Jax goes inside National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – It shocked the community in 1998 when an 8-hour-old baby, Kamiyah Mobley, was kidnapped from University Medical Center, which is now known as UF Health Jacksonville. Everyone knew the little girl's name, but over time, the name, and her picture, faded from the memory of some.

But, in one place, that never happened: The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Virginia.

Inside the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

For the last 18 years, Mobley's name and face popped up every day at NCMEC, as did many others from our area and across the country. While most of the 160 tips given directly to the center about Mobley were dead ends, two recent tips busted her kidnapping case wide open and led to finding Mobley alive and giving hope to so many others.

"Even though hope starts to dwindle, it never goes out. We find long-term missing children quite frequently," Robert Lowery, vice president of the Missing Children's Division at NCMEC, told News4Jax. "We will have hundreds of tips that lead nowhere, but we always know there will be that one piece of information that will come in that will lead us to the information that we need to find a child and get them reunited."

Twenty-four hours a day, inside the center, faces flash by on monitors -- a reminder to everyone there of who they are fighting for. For 18 years, Mobley's face appeared on their screens, but not anymore.

2 tips crack Kamiyah Mobley's kidnapping case

Last August, the first of two phone calls, among the hundreds of calls that come into the center every day, set the wheels in motion to find Mobley.

The first call to the center said that Mobley was living in Walterboro, South Carolina, and that she had told a friend she was kidnapped as a baby and living as Alexis Manigo. 

The second phone call came two months later, in October, and is believed to have been from the same person who made the first call.

But the second tip was more specific. The caller said Gloria Williams had admitted to Alexis Manigo that she had taken her from the hospital and claimed her as her own daughter.

Cautiously optimistic, the center immediately passed both of those tips to investigators with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

"When we have a case like Kamiyah, they are terribly frustrating. There's 18 years that we worked with the Jacksonville authorities, we worked with her family, her biological mother and biological family, to find her," said Lowery.

DNA confirmed Alexis Manigo was in fact Kamiyah Mobley, and JSO brought Williams back to Jacksonville to face kidnapping charges.

Mobley has been reintroduced to her biological family, but Lowery says NCMEC will continue to help her -- even though she's been found. He says working through the mixed emotions for all family members is a difficult and lengthy process, that each will handle differently.

Finding Kamiyah Mobley sparks new hope for those still missing 

The positive outcome in Mobley's case breathes new hope for other parents and guardians who continue to fight to find their missing children.

Linda Alligood is one of those mothers who will never stop searching and hoping her son Mark Denger will return.

"You always think positively," Alligood told News4Jax. 

On Feb. 10. 2005, Mark and another boy, Bryan Hayes, disappeared from school. Neither have been seen since. Alligood only has age-progression photos to show her what her son and Bryan may look like now.

"It's hard. It really is. I mean, it gets harder every year. Nothing's changed other than they've grown up. You know? You're not looking for a child anymore, you're looking for an adult," explained Alligood.

When cases such as Mobley's get cracked, new hope is felt for the nearly 400 missing across Florida. As shown in the corresponding chart, right now, 11 children are missing from our area. In fact, one of the oldest cases in all of Florida is out of Jacksonville Beach. Jonathan Hagans has been missing from there since 1968. 

"You just hope that he is going to call one day and say, 'I'm OK. There's no problems with me. I'm fine. I'm doing well.' And I'm OK with that," said Alligood. "But it's just nice to see those other people out there who went through the same thing I'm going through."

"Kamiyah's case in Jacksonville serves as a very strong example," said Lowery. "We can't give up hope until we know."

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children affects change

While hundreds of phone calls will continue to come in daily to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and those tips will be given to police agencies across the country, the center and those working there fight for permanent change.

After Kamiyah Mobley's disappearance, the center helped push for legislation making hospitals more secure so what happened to her wouldn't happen again. 

"How would you feel if this was your child? Taken by someone like that. Even though they presented themselves in the community as a normal citizen of the community, she is far from normal," said Lowery. "It was very planned, very conniving. She conned a lot of people. She lied."

According to the center, there have been 133 infant abductions since the early 1980s when they started keeping track. Right now, there are four from that group that are still missing.

“I would rather answer 100 tips that lead nowhere because we are working with the public to get that information, to that one time that someone has something that can unlock the information that is necessary,” Lowery said.

While Mobley's face is forever gone from the center, it will always be remembered -- providing even more motivation to make sure the other faces on the video boards one day stop flashing by, too.

"We always keep that hope alive that the child is alive and needs to be rescued and returned home," said Lowery.

To make a tip to NCMEC, you can call its 24-hour hotline at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678) or online to its CyberTipline.  For information on a specific missing child, or what to do if your child is missing, click here. Below, you can click through interactive details about the 11 children currently missing from our area.