48 Hours: Fighting for Aniah

Aniah Blanchard, a 19-year-old college student and the stepdaughter of a top-ranked UFC fighter, was found murdered in Alabama in 2019. Her parents are fighting for a new law, because despite being charged with kidnapping and beating two men, her alleged killer was out on the streets months before Aniah was killed.

Video Transcript

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: This week's 48 Hours investigates the killing of a top ranked UFC fighter's stepdaughter after her disappearance in 2019. 19-year-old Aniah Blanchard was found murdered in Alabama. Now her parents are fighting for a new law, because her alleged killer was out on the streets, despite being charged with kidnapping and beating two men just months before Aniah was killed. James Brown reports for 48 Hours.

JAMES BROWN: These are the last images of Aniah Blanchard at a gas station in Auburn near her apartment.

ANGELA HARRIS: Just the worst feeling ever.

JAMES BROWN: Aniah's mother, Angela Harris, and her stepfather, UFC fighter Walt Harris were frantic.

ANGELA HARRIS: We drove my truck in backwoods. We were all in people's yards.

JAMES BROWN: Aniah's car, which was badly damaged, was found 55 miles away. Investigators say a blood soaked passenger seat and a bullet hole in the door tell the story of what happened to Aniah that night.

ANGELA HARRIS: So traumatizing to think about what she went through.

JAMES BROWN: Authorities believe Aniah ran into Ibrahim Yazeed when she stopped at the gas station. Yazeed is a man with a lengthy arrest record, and he had been charged earlier that year with robbing and beating two people. In spite of those serious charges, Yazeed was free on bond. Aniah's college roommate, Sarah O'Brien.

SARAH O'BRIEN: How is this person free to walk into a gas station? How is he in the same gas station as my best friend?

JAMES BROWN: But Yazeed maintains his innocence. The Harris's were committed to facing Yazeed whenever he appeared in court. You see him, Mr. Yazeed, looking back at you guys. Walt.

WALT HARRIS: I remember shaking. I wanted to climb across the barricade.

JAMES BROWN: It took all of Walt's training in the ring and Angela's steady hand to keep him from ripping into Yazeed.

WALT HARRIS: She grabbed me, and she said, just breathe. And I just started trying to hear her voice.

JAMES BROWN: Angela, how did you stay composed?

ANGELA HARRIS: I wanted him to know that I'm representing my daughter. You don't scare me, and that I'm not going anywhere. We're right here, and we're going to represent our daughter, and we're going to fight.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: So CBS News Special Correspondent James Brown is joining me now. James, how have the Harris's been able, been fighting their way sort of through this tragedy? I cannot imagine and in that just short little sliver of the story that we saw, the intensity of the emotion is so palatable.

JAMES BROWN: And certainly that's been the case throughout the entire time, too, Anne-Marie, and good morning to you. It's been awfully tough. The operative word as you mentioned in that set up is fight, and the mother Angela has been doing just that. She and her daughter Aniah were the best of friends. The father thought that he was going to retire from UFC fighting, but in a dream he had one night, his daughter Aniah gave him a hug and insisted that he get back at it, so he is thinking of continuing his career.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: You know, it is a horrible tragedy to know that a loved one's life was cut short, but they went through a period where they simply did not know what happened, that Aniah left and it was like she disappeared. How did they make it through those days?

JAMES BROWN: Can you imagine any of us, all of us who are parents, and you don't even need to be a parent, can only imagine because it was four weeks before they found the body in the wooded area where the body was dumped then. Prior to that, the fact that they just didn't know and they spent days searching in several counties, surrounding counties as any parent, any couple would to do just that, but obviously, they did come upon the grisly discovery, and they're hoping for some closure, which right now they can't see an end. Because of the pandemic, all the court cases and activities have been put on hold or much slower as a result of the pandemic, Anne-Marie.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: Of course. Well, I'm looking forward to this, James. It's really interesting to see how they're not just fighting now for their own family, but for any future families who might find themselves in a similar situation. And I think that is absolutely remarkable to find that kind of strength within that level of pain. Thank you so much.

JAMES BROWN: Thank you, Anne-Marie.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: So you can see the full report, "Fighting for Aniah" on 48 Hours Saturday night at 10:00/9:00 Central on CBS or Paramount Plus.