For more than a month, UFC heavyweight fighter Walt Harris held out hope that his stepdaughter, who he often referred to as his daughter, would be found alive. Authorities in Alabama thwarted that dream last week when they confirmed that the teenage girl who had been missing since late October, was in fact deceased. Harris took to Instagram on Thursday to lament on the news.
“My sweet baby girl… I just wanna thank you for helping me change my life for the better…,” Harris began the lengthy Instagram post in honor of stepdaughter Aniah Blanchard. “For teaching me how to be a man and a better father! For being my biggest fan win, lose, or draw! For always knowing what to say to put a smile on my face and lift me up when I was down and wanted to give up.”
Harris married Blanchard’s mother, Angela Harris, and was in the Southern Union State Community College student’s life from a very young age. He, along with his wife and Blanchard’s father and stepmother, vigorously attempted to gather information on the whereabouts of the Alabama native.
ESSENCE was among the first to report on the college student’s disappearance which took place on October 23. At the time, little details were known about when and where the young woman went missing and authorities claimed there was no evidence of foul play. Roughly a week after initial reports, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey authorized a $5,000 reward for information connected to the disappearance of the teen.
Since then, Blanchard’s car was recovered and two suspects, 35-year-old Antwain “Squirmy” Fisher, and 29-year-old Ibraheem Yazeed, were identified and charged in connection to her disappearance. A third man, David Johnson Jr., 63, was charged with hindering prosecution and is being held on a $7,500 bond.
Days before the Thanksgiving holiday, Auburn police said they believed that remains found in a wooded area in Macon County, Alabama, was, in fact, that of the 19-year-old. On November 27, those suspicions were confirmed.
Blanchard’s cause of death remains unknown.
“This pain is unbearable…,” Harris continued his heartfelt tribute. “I know you want me to be strong but it so hard baby it so hard. I’m gonna find away [sic] I promise you I will. Right now nothing makes sense and I’m so lost. I just want you back. I hope I made you proud… I’m gonna keep going daddy just needs time. I love you so much. Look after us like you always did. We need you now more than ever. My lil mighty mighty tiger is a angel now. I love you baby girl forever and ever!”
Blanchard’s father, Elijah Blanchard, echoed those sentiments by saying that his daughter had a “heart of gold,” and that she was a “good person all the way around.”
“It’s evident she was special to so many people,” he added.