(AUBURN, Ala.) — The parents of a missing Alabama college student met with Beth Holloway, the mother of Natalee Holloway, on Wednesday — the same day police in Auburn released new photos of a person of interest in the disappearance of the 19-year-old woman two weeks ago.
The images of the unidentified man were captured on surveillance cameras at the convenience store where Aniah Haley Blanchard was last seen on Oct. 23, according to the Auburn Police Division.
Investigators did not call the man a suspect, but said they wanted to identify him and speak with him in connection with Blanchard’s disappearance. Police said he was in his early to mid 20s, weighing approximately 200 pounds and about 5 feet, 9 inches tall.
He was seen wearing dark-colored pants, dark-colored shoes and a camouflage hooded jacket with “Vans” in white writing across the back. Additionally, he was observed leaving the area around the time when Blanchard vanished in what is described as a late-2000’s model Lincoln Town Car, silver or grey in color, the division said in a statement.
“As part of the ongoing joint investigation with the Auburn Police Division and the Montgomery Police Department into Aniah’s disappearance, investigators are seeking to identify the individual in the video and speak with him,” the statement said.
Blanchard’s mother, Angela Haley-Harris, and her stepfather, Walt Harris, spoke to ABC News on Wednesday just after meeting Beth Holloway for the first time. Natalee Holloway, who was also from Alabama, went missing in May 2005 on a trip to Aruba following her high school graduation and was never found. She is presumed dead.
“I followed Natalee’s case and I’ve always admired her for her strength — just thought she was an amazing lady,” Haley-Harris told ABC News of Beth. “She’s an amazing woman and I think she’s going to be a great support for us.”
Tim Miller, founder of Texas EquuSearch, an organization that helps in finding missing people, connected Holloway with the Harris family and is assisting in the search for Blanchard.
One of Haley-Harris’ younger children previously died in a car crash, she said. But the feeling of Blanchard’s absence has been different.
Haley-Harris said, “I know what it feels like to lose a child, but the situation with Natalee, her disappearance and what Beth has gone through, I can’t relate to that. Now I can. I just feel like I needed her, I needed somebody who knows what I’m going through, what we’re going through. … I needed help, because this is such a rare situation.”
Blanchard has not been seen since she was caught on surveillance video visiting the convenience store in Auburn’s downtown area. Police believe she is a victim of foul play.
“We need her back; we have to have her back,” Haley-Harris said.
“We can’t live without her, we can’t,” she added.
The Southern Union State Community College student last communicated with a friend on Oct. 23, just before midnight, and her family reported her missing the following day.
When asked what would help a stranger identify Blanchard if she’s seen in public, Harris smiled, and said: “That big head of hair, that beautiful smile. I mean, she lights up a room.”
“She just keeps everybody upbeat and happy,” Haley-Harris said. “She’s just so much fun.”
“I hate to say it, but this might be what got her into this situation. She was just so trusting of people, and I think someone may have just taken advantage of that,” she continued.
Police said they found evidence in her vehicle that indicates that she may have been the victim of foul play. The vehicle, a black 2017 Honda CRV, was found abandoned near an apartment complex in Montgomery on Oct. 25. It had damage to the front left tire area, which is believed to have occurred between the time she was last seen and when the vehicle was found, according to police.
“This is a criminal investigation. Obviously, we’re approaching it as such. I think the only right way to do it is to approach it as if foul play is involved and as if there is someone or more than one person involved in this,” Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes said at a press conference last week. “We do not believe Aniah would, or did, essentially go missing on her own volition.”
Her parents said rumors she was going to meet a date on the night she went missing are not true.
“We know that’s not true because we were able to get into her accounts,” Harris said. “There was no communication with anybody outside of myself and her [mother] through her actual phone. Her social media accounts didn’t have any messages. The only person she was communicating with was her roommate.”
Haley-Harris said the last messages from Blanchard to anyone were to her roommate over Snapchat in which she indicated she was with a guy she had just met. However, her mother does not believe Blanchard sent the Snapchat message because of “terminology” not consistent with her daughter, though she did not share specifics.
Crime Stoppers said the total amount of rewards offered is now $105,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those involved in Blanchard’s disappearance.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a proclamation authorizing a $5,000 reward for information in the case. In addition, UFC President Dana White, UFC fighter Jon Jones and MMA manager Ali Abdelaziz each pledged $25,000 last week.
Her stepfather, Harris, is a prominent mixed martial artist and contender for the UFC heavyweight title. Harris had been preparing for a marquee UFC fight against Alistair Overeem on Dec. 7, but pulled out last week due to his stepdaughter’s disappearance.
“That’s what’s getting us through, hundreds of friends and our family that’s been there since the very minute they found out,” Haley-Harris said. “The drove from all over to be there with us and we just want to say thank you to them and thank you to the Auburn community.”
Elijah Blanchard, Aniah’s father, thanked the community at a vigil in Birmingham Wednesday night.
“Whoever would have thought that this little girl named Aniah would pull so many hearts together as one,” he said, according to Birmingham ABC affiliate WBMA-TV.
Anyone with information on the person of interest’s identity is being 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.
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