An 18-year-old South Carolina woman’s life turned inside out Friday when the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and FBI told her the woman she called mother her entire life is charged with kidnapping her from a Jacksonville hospital when she was a day old.
As police work to extradite 51-year-old Gloria Denise Williams from her Walterboro, S.C., home to Jacksonville, Sheriff Mike Williams said Kamiyah Mobley is alive and well.
Joined by State Attorney Melissa Nelson, FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Charles Spencer and other officials, the sheriff credited the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and a quickly secured DNA match with cracking a case that saw roughly 2,500 tips hit dead ends until now.
Police didn’t provide her name, saying they are respecting her privacy as she works through this with victim advocates. Her biological family was ecstatic after talking with the girl, who was named Alexis.
Her birth mother, Shanara Mobley, did not want to comment yet, according to her Jacksonville family.
Other members said Alexis told them they can call her Kamiyah when they spoke via phone and Skype on Friday. Her father, Craig Aiken, said she’s coming to Jacksonville soon to see them, or he’ll go get her, calling this “one of the happiest days of my life.”
“I always hoped and prayed this day would happen. I always felt she was alive. I always felt she would find us,” the 41-year-old said.
“She’s coming home!” said her paternal grandmother, Velma Aiken. “Yes, Lord, we’re fixing to celebrate!”
Nat Glover, Jacksonville’s sheriff at the time of the kidnapping, said he is delighted Kamiyah was found. He said they followed every possible lead to make a case, but nothing panned out.
“I really like that this is a story that has a good ending,” Glover said. “Usually in law enforcement when someone is gone for a while, we assume the worst. But this one defied that notion and I am glad to find out she is alive and well. … So many people worked on this. We looked at everybody, to be honest, but we just couldn’t find anything substantial, nor did we get the kind of leads that were that promising.”
Kamiyah was kidnapped about 3 p.m. on July 10, 1998, when a woman posing as a nurse snatched the 8-hour-old baby from her mother’s room at University Medical Center (now UF Health Jacksonville), brushing past the grandmother and disappearing. Police said the woman had roamed the hospital for 14 hours, asking about Mobley’s baby. The woman then spent five hours with Mobley and Kamiyah before saying the baby had a fever and needed to be checked. Wearing a blue floral smock and green scrub pants, the woman took the child in a white blanket and left with a pocketbook slung over her shoulder.
“We don’t believe she was a resident, but again those are things we will look into,” the sheriff said Friday. “We are not sure of her ties to Jacksonville. We are as early in this investigation as can be, and it is as complicated as you can imagine.”
Since the kidnapping, investigators tracked down many tips that led nowhere, police said. But late last year two more came in to the Center for Missing and Exploited Children that sent Sheriff’s Office cold case investigators to Walterboro to work with local police, the sheriff said. Walterboro is in Colleton County, about 50 miles west of Charleston and 200 miles north of Jacksonville. A small town with just over 5,000 people, it’s also the county seat.
Investigators tracked down an 18-year-old woman with the same 1998 birthday, then learned that fraudulent documents had been used to establish her identity, the sheriff said. Interviews with others in the community led investigators to believe she might be Kamiyah, and the young woman gave a DNA sample this week. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s crime lab matched it with a tissue sample taken when she was born.
Williams was arrested Friday and also charged with interference with custody, the sheriff said.
He said Kamiyah seems to be a normal 18-year-old woman taking this “as well as you can imagine.” She also apparently had some idea a few months ago that something wasn’t right with her situation, he added. She was not there when Williams was arrested, but other members of the woman’s family were, the sheriff said.
“This young woman was abducted as a newborn and she is going to need time and assistance to process all of this,” the sheriff said.
Williams said he spoke with some of the original and current investigators in the case to tell them that Kamiyah had been found, and they felt “a sense of accomplishment.”
The sheriff also met with Kamiyah’s biological family, who were not at the news briefing.
Velma Aiken said Kamiyah mentioned that the only mother she ever knew raised her well. Craig Aiken, who was in jail at the time of her birth, said he’s hoping she moves here.
“She’s got questions to answers I don’t even know,” Craig Aiken said.
“I just need to put my arms around her and just never let her go,” her 66-year-old grandmother added. “I don’t want to scare her away. I want to go slowly.”
Kamiyah’s mother was 15 when she became pregnant by Craig Aiken. He was then arrested on a warrant for lewd, lascivious and indecent assault on a child younger than 16 after talking with reporters about the kidnapping, according to Times-Union archives. The couple aren’t married but remain close, family said.
Back in 1998, police and family said Mobley thought all along that the mystery woman was a nurse, while nurses thought she was family.
In a 2008 Times-Union interview, the grandmother clearly remembered passing the woman and baby while walking into Mobley’s room. She grew suspicious that the woman carried a pocketbook. But by the time staff was called, the woman and child were gone. Officers searched each hospital room as well as cars, while bus and train stations as well as the airport were alerted. The FBI and FDLE were called in as composite sketches and fliers were posted and the kidnapper was profiled.
Glover remembered that they investigated whether the kidnapping could have been an inside job, even looking at family members as well as health care professionals. During that first year, police chased down leads from as far away as Nova Scotia, hoping a $250,000 reward would offer some incentive. The case was featured on CNN and “America’s Most Wanted.”
The hospital issued the following statement:
“As the successor to University Medical Center, we are thrilled that this young woman has been located. We share in the joy of this discovery with her family, the Northeast Florida community and law enforcement as they celebrate this news.
“Like most hospitals, we currently have specialized, state-of-the-art security measures in place, both personnel-based and electronic, to protect newborns and their mothers,” the statement continued.
Gloria Williams could face up to life in prison if convicted. She had a court appearance in South Carolina late Friday afternoon, but the judge didn’t set bail, according to Times-Union news partner First Coast News. Kamiyah was in the courtroom and told Williams she was “praying for her” and that she “loved her.”