UFC Star on Missing Teen Stepdaughter's Disappearance: 'I Know She Needs Me to be Strong to Find Her'

Harriet Sokmensuer

As the search for 19-year-old Aniah Haley Blanchard, the stepdaughter of UFC fighter Walt Harris, enters its second week, her family says they are doing everything they can to bring her home.

“It’s hard, trying to stay strong,” Harris tells PEOPLE Wednesday. “[But] as the head of my house I have to say strong because I know she needs me to be strong to find her.”

Wednesday marks the fourteenth day of Blanchard’s disappearance. On Oct. 24, she was reported missing by her family after she didn’t come home the night before. She was last seen on Oct. 23 at a gas station in Auburn, Alabama, near her apartment, and had told her roommate she was on her way home.

But she didn’t come home — and two days later, police found her car nearly 60 miles away in Montgomery. Evidence recovered from the vehicle led Auburn police to believe Blanchard was harmed and a victim of foul play.

RELATED: UFC Star Pleads for Return of Missing Stepdaughter

Blanchard’s last known whereabouts are difficult to pinpoint, Harris says. She last communicated with her roommate through Snapchat on Wednesday night, just before midnight, saying she would be home soon. But then minutes later she sent a message saying she was with someone named “Eric,” Harris says. When her roommate asked who he was, Blanchard wrote back, “I just met him,” according to Harris.

She was never heard from again.

Harris says it’s unlike his daughter to fail to return home, especially when she had work the next morning. She is always in contact with her family, he says, so when her brother couldn’t reach her the next day, the family called police.

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Harris met Blanchard when she was 3 years old while dating her mother, Angela Harris, in 2003. He says from the beginning, Blanchard and her older brother, Elijah, felt like his biological children.

RELATED: Family of Missing Teen Aniah Blanchard Speaks Out

“I knew I had to protect her and take care of her,” Harris says.

Blanchard has always been responsible, Harris says, which makes her last known correspondence even more confusing.

Years ago, when her mother worked night shifts, Blanchard helped Harris care for her younger brother and sister, including changing diapers.

“She’s a selfless kid and she always put people before her,” Harris says. “She has a huge heart. She’s my everything.”

courtesy Walt Harris

When she was a senior in high school, Blanchard was voted captain of her softball team.

“I was watching some softball videos and you can hear her audible yelling and cheering for her teammates every game,” Harris says. “That’s why she was voted captain, because that’s the kind of girl she is; she has a great spirit and she wants everyone to succeed.”

Since graduating from high school in 2018, Blanchard has been studying at Southern Union State Community College. She had been planning to transfer to Auburn University, where her brother is a junior, next year.

RELATED: UFC Star’s Missing Stepdaughter, 19, Was ‘Victim of Foul Play,’ Ala. Police Believe

As police continue to investigate, Harris says he is working on balancing being with his wife and two younger children, ages 6 and 13, in Homewood and helping with the search. The family has found the support from their community “overwhelming.”

They have also received support from the UFC community. Currently, the reward for finding Blanchard is $80,000, with $25,000 being offered by UFC President Dana White, as well as $5,000 from Governor Kay Ivey and another $5,000 (from an anonymous source) for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of an offender in this case.

Harris says if anyone would like to donate to the search, they should send donations to FindAniahBlanchard@gmail.com via PayPal, not GoFundMe.

Blanchard is described as a light-complexioned black female. She is 5 feet, 6 inches tall and weighs about 125 pounds. She has brown eyes and brown hair.

Anyone with information regarding Blanchard’s whereabouts or other knowledge about the case is asked to call the Auburn Police Division Detective Section at 334-501-3140, the anonymous tip line at 334-246-1391 or the 24-hour non-emergency number at 334-501-3100.