WALTERBORO, South Carolina (AP) — Stolen from a hospital just hours after she was born, an 18-year-old woman finally learned her true identity and was reunited Friday with her birth family, by video chat. The woman she thought was her mother was charged with her kidnapping.
Thanks to DNA analysis, the 18-year-old now knows her birth name: Kamiyah Mobley. She’s in good health, but understandably overwhelmed, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said at a news conference.
Police arrested Gloria Williams, 51, in Walterboro, South Carolina, where Mobley was raised in a small house with white vinyl siding and black trim, about 200 miles from the hospital where she was born. She will be extradited to Florida on charges of kidnapping and interference with custody, authorities said.
In Jacksonville, the young woman’s birth family cried “tears of joy” after a detective told them their baby had been found. Within hours Friday, they were able to reconnect by video chat.
“She looks just like her daddy,” her paternal grandmother, Velma Aiken of Jacksonville, told The Associated Press after they were able to see each other for the first time, on FaceTime. “She act like she been talking to us all the time. She told us she’d be here soon to see us.”
Mobley was only eight hours old when she was taken from her young mother by a woman posing as a nurse at University Medical Center. A massive search ensued, with helicopters circling the hospital and the city on high alert, and thousands of tips came in over the years, but she had disappeared.
All that time, Kamiyah’s neighbors in Walterboro knew her as Gloria William’s daughter, Alexis Manigo.
“She wasn’t an abused child or a child who got in trouble. But she grew up with a lie for 18 years,” Joseph Jenkins, who lives across the street, told the AP.
Some months ago, the young woman “had an inclination” that she may have been kidnapped, the sheriff said. Authorities didn’t say why she suspected this, or how her case came to the attention of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
But the center soon reached out to the cold case detectives at the sheriff’s office, and Mobley provided a swab of her cheek for DNA analysis that proved the match, the sheriff said.
The center has tracked 308 infant abductions since 1983 by nonfamily members in the U.S. Of those cases, 12 were still missing at the end of last month. That’s now one number smaller.
“She’s taking it as well as you can imagine. She has a lot to process,” the sheriff said. “I can’t even begin to comprehend it.”
The woman has been provided with counseling, the sheriff said. Meanwhile, Aiken is thrilled to know that they can speak with each other as much as they want.
“I always prayed, ‘Don’t let me die before I see my grand baby’,” said Aiken. “My prayer was answered.”
The family never forgot the little girl ripped from her mother’s arms that day in 1988.
Her mother, Shanara Mobley, told the Florida Times-Union newspaper on the 10th anniversary of the kidnapping that on every one of Kamiyah’s birthdays, she wrapped a piece of birthday cake in foil and stuck it in her freezer.
“It’s stressful to wake up every day, knowing that your child is out there and you have no way to reach her or talk to her,” Mobley told the paper in 2008.
News moved quickly through the community of about 5,100 people early Friday after police cars swarmed Williams’ home. Joseph Jenkins said he awoke to see officers searching the house and the shed around back.
“At the fish market, the hair dresser, the gas station, they’re all talking about it,” said Ruben Boatwright, who said he’s known Williams for about 15 years.
Lakeshia Jenkins, Joseph’s wife, said Williams and the girl would often come over for cookouts in the yard, or join their family at a nearby water park. Kamiyah seemed to be well cared for, and “Ms. Williams, she seemed like a normal person,” Jenkins said.
“She went to work, came back here and went to church every Sunday,” she said.
Williams also worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ hospital in Charleston, volunteered in the area for Habitat for Humanity and lead the youth program at a Methodist church, she said.
“She’s very intelligent, smart as a whip,” Boatwright said. “All I can say are good things about her.”