Quietly reading a book while in Montana with my daughter on a medical school rotation in Oct. 2019, I received the call I will never forget. The voice on the other end was informing my rapidly-beating heart of a heartbreaking story—Aniah Blanchard was missing and law enforcement officials were fearful she could be dead.
Immediately, I called Governor Kay Ivey’s office requesting seed money be placed in an account to generate interest and revenue for a reward for information leading to her recovery or information which could lead to an arrest in the case. The governor agreed and set aside the first $5,000 in an account which blossomed to more than $150,000 in rapid time.
A phone call was also placed to her mother, Winfield native Angela Harris. I wanted to learn as much as I could in a short time period to see how I could assist. Harris and her husband were living in Homewood by this time, and her daughter was attending college in Auburn. The victim’s biological father was also a Winfield native, Ned Blanchard, who was living with his wife in the Birmingham area as well.
After several grueling days, the sad news would come the young woman’s body had been recovered.
News of the search for and eventual death of this young woman spread across Alabama rapidly. The media and law enforcement were hopeful such coverage might lead to an important piece of information in the initial search for her alleged killer later in the week.
Remaining in touch with her family over the next several weeks, the family soon realized my heart was in the right place, and I wanted to be a part of any process to remember their precious daughter. Within a few months, the Alabama Legislature would return to session and the opportunity was presented.
My friend and colleague Chip Brown of Hollinger’s Island in Mobile County had introduced a public safety bill in the previous legislative session only to see time expire before the legislation could be passed. But following Blanchard’s death, I realized her family’s tragedy might just be the added push Brown’s legislation needed in order to provide a safer Alabama in which to live.
Under this proposed legislation, judges would be given broader discretion to deny bond to those accused of committing violent crimes. Under current Alabama law, a judge can only deny bond in capital murder cases. Under Brown’s bill, the judges could deny bond on other violent cases, such as kidnapping and rape.
The accused in Blanchard’s disappearance, rape and murder, Ibraheed Yazeed, was out on bond at the time on several violent offenses, including kidnapping and attempted murder. He is currently being held on capital murder charges.
For months, Brown and I partnered to work with the family to generate support for the bill, which eventually became known as Aniah’s Law. In time, the bill passed both legislative chambers and earned the governor’s signature. But the final step in the process is now at hand. Since this broadened discretion for judges would involve a change to the state constitution, the final say lays in the hands of Alabama voters.
This will be the first amendment under consideration when voters head to the polls on Nov. 8. My prayer is the state’s citizenry will find it in their hearts to vote yes on this amendment to protect future generations from violent offenders while also leaving Aniah Blanchard with a lasting legacy. May we not allow her murder to be in vain.
Her mother has traveled the state over the past few years educating those who will listen about her daughter’s untimely death. She has spoken in numerous schools and civic clubs attempting to educate potential voters on what Amendment One would mean for public safety in our state. As a friend of the family, your local legislator and a citizen who wants to see our people protected, I am asking each voter living in House District 17 to consider supporting this initiative by voting yes on Amendment One.
Tracy Estes is Alabama State House District 17’s state representative from Winfield.
See complete story in the Journal Record.