Just a few hours after Shanara Mobley gave birth to her first child on the morning of July 10, 1998, an unknown woman walked into her hospital room in Jacksonville, Florida. The woman, who was in her early 30s, claimed she was a nurse and stayed in the room for the next few hours, keeping the 16-year-old mother company. Then, around 3:00 p.m., she told Mobley she needed to take the baby out of the room for a few minutes to take her temperature.
She walked out with the baby and never came back.
The abduction of baby Kamiyah Mobley sparked a nationwide search that only ended 18 years later, in January 2017, when the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office followed tips about the case all the way to Walterboro, South Carolina. There, they found the kidnapper, Gloria Williams, who had renamed the child Alexis Kelli Manigo and raised her as her own daughter. (This article will use her legal first name, Kamiyah.)
“This is an unusual case,” Alan Mizrahi, an assistant state attorney in Florida’s 4th Judicial Circuit and one of the prosecutors in the case, tells A&E Real Crime.
“Most abductions are done by people known to the victim’s family,” says Mizrahi. “Some kidnappings have been done with strangers or people that are not known, but those are usually very short term. They’re usually caught, or the person [who was abducted] is killed and we discover it very quickly. Nothing like this.”
Kamiyah had actually discovered the secret of her abduction at age 16, when she tried to get a job and realized she didn’t have a social security number. Without it, she couldn’t legally work or apply for a driver’s license, and Williams decided to tell Kamiyah the truth about why she didn’t have one.
Williams confessed that in 1998, she’d driven from South Carolina to Florida, posed as a nurse and abducted Kamiyah from her birth mother’s arms. At the time of the abduction, Williams was in abusive relationship, had lost custody of her two young sons and had recently suffered a miscarriage. When she brought Kamiyah back to South Carolina, she passed her off as her biological daughter.
Kamiyah knew what Williams had done was illegal, but she also didn’t want to lose the person she knew as her mother, so she kept the secret to herself.
Yet at some point, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children received tips about Williams and Kamiyah and passed them on to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. After DNA tests confirmed Kamiyah was Shanara Mobley’s daughter, the sheriff’s office arrested Williams on January 13, 2017, charging her with kidnapping and interference with custody.
The day of Williams’ arrest was also the day Shanara Mobley finally learned her first-born was alive and safe. Kamiyah traveled to Florida to meet her biological mother, father and five younger siblings, and began to build relationships with them. At the same time, she maintained relationships with the people she’d known as her older brothers and grandparents in South Carolina, and also with Williams.
After Florida’s Duval County Court sentenced Williams to 18 years in May 2018, Kamiyah continued living in the house where she grew up. Kamiyah’s lawyer, Justin Bamberg, told First Coast News shortly after the sentencing that she’d finally gotten a social security number, and would soon take her driver’s license exam and start a job.
Around that time, some news stories reported Kamiyah and Mobley were no longer on speaking terms because of Kamiyah’s loyalty to Williams. But Mizrahi, who still has occasional contact with Mobley, says that’s just not true.
“Those stories were not accurate, even at the time,” he says. “My understanding is, they do have a relationship.” Mizrahi adds that in working on the trial, he was disturbed by some people’s belief that if “Gloria [Williams] gave [Kamiyah] a good life, maybe [the crime] isn’t that bad. And I find that abhorrent, I find it disgusting.”
He also clarifies that “none of my comments have anything to do with [Kamiyah]” and how she may feel about Williams. “Imagine living your whole life and the person you consider a god, your mother, that raised you and did everything for you, is a complete liar and kidnapper,” he says. “Her feelings are legitimate.”
In June 2018, Kamiyah told ABC News’ Good Morning America she was speaking regularly with both Williams and her biological family in Florida. GMA also reported that she goes by both of her names depending on which family she is with—”Alexis” in South Carolina and “Kamiyah” in Florida.
In 2020, Robin Roberts Presents will premiere the drama Kidnapped: The Kamiyah Mobley Story (working title) on Lifetime, along with a companion documentary about the case.