Alexis Manigo had everything she needed while growing up.
Her mother, Gloria Williams, made sure the "princess" of the family was well fed, educated, and treated to whatever made her happy.
"As a mom, she was very smart, very loving, and generous. She was always giving everything she had to me and my friends," Alexis said. "She wasn't a parent who could say no. I was very spoiled. I know she loved me."
Alexis also revealed that Gloria made sure that they regularly "went to church," and that she and her brothers were taught "the difference between right and wrong."
It seems like Gloria should've taken her own advice, and done the right thing, because she did something really awful and never bothered to tell Alexis.
On July 10, 1998, Gloria walked into a Florida hospital's maternity ward and posed as a relative of Alexis's biological family, so she could be allowed to visit new mom, Shanara Mobley.
Once she entered the 16-year-old mom's room, Gloria switched her identity and informed her that she was a nurse. After spending hours getting acquainted with Shanara, Gloria explained that her newborn daughter, named Kamiyah, needed to be checked for a fever, and then vanished without a trace.
That was the last time Shanara saw her baby, until 18 years later.
The manhunt for Gloria began soon after the child's grandmother realized that she had been snatched. The police were called within minutes, and the entire hospital was on lockdown. Area buses were searched and airport authorities were put on alert.
“There’s a high percentage in getting these babies back,” a Jacksonville sheriff’s spokesman told reporters on the day of the kidnapping. “We want to put our hands on that baby.”
The devastated mother and her family released statements to the media and appeared on local news stations pleading for the safe return of their daughter.
Unfortunately, all of their efforts proved futile.
Shanara would go on to have three more children, but her missing daughter still occupied space in her heart and mind. She prayed every day that her daughter was alive and would one day return.
“What does she like? What kind of food?” Shanara told the Florida Times-Union around what would've been Alexis's 10th birthday “What kind of colors? How smart is she? Does she have long pretty hair? Does she have my eyelashes?”
Little did she know that her daughter was living a few hundred miles away in Walterboro, South Carolina, and had no idea that she was a victim of kidnapping.
Gloria had created a false identity for Alexis, and managed to steal a social security number for her "daughter" to use throughout her childhood.
However, her plan was foiled 18 years later when Alexis tried getting a restaurant job, and her social security number was deemed invalid. It wasn't until Alexis insisted that the woman she believed to be her mother give her an explanation that Gloria confessed.
Of course, Alexis was taken aback by what Gloria had told her about how she came into her life, but there were parts of the story that the kidnapper left out.
The teen then turned to Google for more answers. Slowly but surely, she was able to piece together what had happened to her all those years ago.
According to the Daily Mail, she even tried contacting Shanara two years before Gloria's arrest, but she hung up as soon as her mother answered the phone.
Somehow news about Alexis's backstory leaked, and in January of 2017, Gloria, 52, was arrested and charged with first-degree kidnapping and third-degree interference with custody.
“We don’t believe she was a resident [of Jacksonville], but again those are things we will look into,” Sheriff Williams said. “We are not sure of her ties to Jacksonville. We are as early in this investigation as can be and it is as complicated as you can imagine.”
Alexis wasn't home during Gloria's arrest, but a video recently released by Florida police shows the 19-year-old reuniting with her abductor.
"I'm sorry baby. I love you," Gloria can be heard saying to Alexis. The teen abductee also appeared in court for Gloria's hearing, and she showed full support for the woman who raised her.
"Don't get me wrong, I do feel like it was wrong," Alexis told Daily Mail. "But we talked about it and I can understand at the time what was going on."
She added, "I sympathize with her, I'm not mad at her - of course I forgive her. I am certain that she's going to get time but I'm hoping not very, very long. I think they should be lenient. It's not like she took me and tortured me my whole life. She took care of me very well."
Reunion in Florida
Since Gloria's arrest, Alexis has reunited with her biological family, including Shanara, her father, Craig Aiken, her stepmother Shannon, and her eight half-siblings.
“First meeting was beautiful, it was wonderful, couldn’t [have gone] better,” Craid said, according to WSCS News. “It’s a feeling that you can’t explain — it’s hard to put it in words right now. We’re trying to process it. Eighteen years. It’s going to be hard to make that up.”
Apparently, the teen has formed an "incredible bond" with her father over the last 12 months, and has been spending a lot of time at his home. Sadly, the same can't be said about Shanara.
Alexis has been struggling to forge a relationship with her biological mother.
"It's been harder for my mother to cope. We are working on our relationship. I don't like to define which one is my mother, I like to be respectful of both parties," Alexis said. "I don't like to take away from either one of their duties or what they did. I don't want to pick sides."
Shanara is taken aback by how much her daughter, who now calls her "mom," continued to sympathize with "mama" Gloria. It's a twist she never saw coming.
"The tears won't stop. I see my baby girl wanting this lady in her life and not me," she wrote on Facebook last year.
Alexis's attorney, Justin Bamberg, had something to say about those criticizing Alexis for sticking by Gloria.
“Some people have criticized Alexis for still caring about Gloria,” Bamberg said. “Some people don’t understand that, but you really got to look at it in terms of her own life and what if it was you? Love is an emotion that is not [scripted] for television. You just don’t turn it off and turn it on. She does still love Gloria.”
According to investigators, Gloria took Alexis because she wanted a child who would replace the baby she miscarried just a week before she committed the crime.
As with most kidnappers, Gloria was hoping Alexis would never be found so she tried to erase everything about the girl's past.
She's currently being held at Duval County jail, and since it's a government institution, Alexis is unable to visit her mama because she doesn't have an ID. Instead, they chat on the phone every couple of days. They're allotted 15 minutes and 34 seconds per call, and they often talk about every day things.
While Gloria awaited trial, Bamberg and Alexis were deciding on the possibility of filing a lawsuit against the hospital where the teen was born.
Alexis's birth family already did so in 2000, and eventually reached a settlement. Their legal battle pushed hospitals in the state to further tighten their security protocols.
Alexis's grandmother, Velma Aiken, hasn't had a good night's sleep since 1998, but she finally found peace. Although she's heartbroken over the fact that Alexis still cries over her "mama" being in jail, she understands where she's coming from.
"I know she’s going through some things right now because she learned to love those people,” Velma told People. “She has been in South Carolina for a long time, since she was taken from us when she was 8 hours old. She’s got all of those friends and relatives she has accumulated over the years. I wouldn’t dare ask her to leave that behind."
Alexis has been trying to appeal for Gloria to receive a lighter sentence because she said that she can't stand being away from her mama.
"I admit I am lost. I am stuck and I don’t even know how to move forward. Sometimes it doesn’t even feel real. Sometimes my days go by and well, it feels like I wasn’t even there, like I’m a spirit. I’m scared, Ma. Scared for you. Scared for life," she wrote in a letter last year.
She continued, “I’m scared for the next day because it might bring more bad news. ... I just need you to come home. I just need a hug. That’s it. Just something. I just miss you so much. It just kills me so much that I can’t even see you. I just want everything to go back to normal. I want you home. I need you here."
Gloria faces life in prison, and a jury selection for the trial was scheduled for February 12, but at the time, it was hinted that the case may not go to trial after all. A plea deal was most likely to be reached.
Gloria reportedly pleaded guilty in exchange for a sentence between zero and 22 years for kidnapping, and zero to five years for the interference charge.
In May, she testified that she had no plans to kidnap Alexis.
"I felt like I was on autopilot. My life was out of control, I lost everything," she said. Adding, "I know I wronged you and I’m so sorry," Williams said. "So many days ... I wanted to pick that child up and say, 'Let’s get in this car and go' -- I just couldn’t."
On June 8, the Associated Press reported that Gloria was sentenced to 18 years for felony kidnapping, and will also concurrently serve five years for custody interference.
The 52-year-old Williams testified at her trial that she wore scrubs to look like a nurse and put the infant in a bag and secreted her out of the hospital.
On Friday, Williams stood next to her attorneys wearing an orange jumpsuit as the judge read the sentence. She looked down as if in prayer and did not visibly react to the judge's words.
"There are no winners and no losers in this case," Judge Marianne Aho said just before announcing the sentence. Aho said many people had suffered in the case, including Williams. "The family in this case suffered not knowing what happened to their child for approximately 18 years."
Alexis was not present at the sentencing hearing.
She has been working hard at getting her life back on track. Bamberg was helping her apply for a social security number so she can obtain an ID and start the process of getting a job and applying for college.
According to Daily Mail, the state of Florida has offered to help pay her tuition when she is ready to attend.
Hopefully, the Mobleys can now move forward and enjoy having Alexis by their side.
- With files from Associated Press