Shanara Mobley never stopped thinking about her baby, who vanished from a Florida hospital nearly 20 years ago, eight hours after Mobley brought her into the world.
Each year since, Mobley celebrated the girl’s birthday with a cake she kept frozen for 18 years. She thought about what it would be like to see her daughter, whom she had named Kamiyah, as she took her first steps or went off to prom.
So when she was asked in a courtroom Thursday what sort of sentence her daughter’s kidnapper, Gloria Williams, should face, her answer came quickly.
“Death,” Mobley said, eliciting gasps from the courtroom, according to the Associated Press.
Kamiyah’s biological father, Craig Aiken, gave a different response.
“This is the part that she makes it hard for me, because my daughter doesn’t want to see [Williams] get time,” he said.
Williams had raised the kidnapped baby as her own in South Carolina and renamed her Alexis Kelly Manigo. When Williams, 51, was arrested on charges of kidnapping and interference with custody in January 2017, Kamiyah sobbed and told Williams she loved her.
But Williams had to pay, Aiken said Thursday, addressing Williams directly, the AP reported.
Williams pleaded guilty to kidnapping and interference with child custody and could face a maximum prison sentence of 22 years, according to the AP.
The ramifications of Kamiyah’s abduction in July 1998 — and the unsuccessful search for her in the decades after — were spelled out in court Thursday. Kamiyah’s biological parents testified that they themselves were viewed as suspects by police, neighbors and even each other. Aiken’s grandmother testified that Shanara Mobley had “turned on me” at one point, wondering if she was behind the kidnapping, the AP reported.
At one point, Shanara Mobley shouted out to her daughter, now 19, who was sitting in the back of the courtroom. “I am your mother, Kamiyah!” she cried. “I am your mother.”
During a second hearing on Friday, Williams detailed the circumstances of the kidnapping. About a month before the kidnapping, Williams testified, she’d had a miscarriage. She had also lost custody of two other children and was in an abusive relationship that led to her miscarriage, according to the AP.
After the loss of her pregnancy, Williams said, she felt her life was out of her control. She drove from South Carolina to Jacksonville, Fla., her mind on autopilot, with no intention of abducting a child, she said.
Yet on the morning of July 10, 1998, Williams posed as a nurse in a blue floral smock and green scrub pants and walked into a Jacksonville hospital’s newborn ward, carrying a bag. She put the baby in the bag and left.
“What I remember is I was running, I was walking, and at any time someone could grab my arm and say, ‘What do you have in the bag?’” Williams said, according to the AP.
The abduction at the time gripped the attention of Florida and much of the country. Authorities sealed the hospital, stopped every visitor, halted buses and put airport police on alert for a baby. Row by row, trains leaving Jacksonville were searched. Room by room, the hospital was combed.
Officials were optimistic.
“There’s a high percentage in getting these babies back,” a Jacksonville sheriff’s spokesman told reporters the day of the kidnapping. “We want to put our hands on that baby.”
As each day passed, Kamiyah’s family never stopped wondering whether she was alive. Aiken was in jail during his daughter’s birth and abduction, serving an eight-month sentence for impregnating Shanara Mobley when she was 15 and he was an adult, according to the Florida Times-Union.
“I wonder what she would look like,” he told the paper from lockup in 1999. He had recurring dreams of holding his baby, playing with her, but could never attach a face to his child.
“The only thing I have to remember her by is her name,” he told the paper at the time. “Kamiyah.”
Posters of Kamiyah were plastered all over Jacksonville in the first year of her disappearance — and over many years to come. Authorities never managed to locate her — despite a $250,000 reward for her recovery, at least three appearances on “America’s Most Wanted” and a search across multiple countries.
The child’s family eventually sued the hospital, later settling in 2000 in a case that prompted hospitals across central Florida to tighten security for newborns, the Orlando Sentinel reported in 2000.
Williams told Kamiyah her true identity shortly before the arrest, after realizing Kamiyah couldn’t get a driver’s license without a valid birth certificate or Social Security card, according to the AP. Kamiyah shared the secret with a friend but not police. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children eventually received an anonymous tip about Kamiyah’s whereabouts, and authorities were notified.
A DNA test in early 2017 confirmed Kamiyah’s identity, and authorities described her as “clearly a victim in this case,” otherwise in good health and living as a “normal 18-year-old woman.” It would be her decision to reunite with her biological family, they said.
She met her biological parents soon after through FaceTime, according to the New York Daily News. They were impressed by how intelligent and respectful she sounded, they told the paper.
In court on Friday, Williams apologized to Kamiyah’s birth mother, according to the AP.
She then turned to Kamiyah.
“I will always love you, always,” Williams told her. “But you’re not mine. Your mother and father are sitting right here.”
Amy B Wang and Avi Selk contributed to this report.