It was the moment that summed up the whirlwind of confused emotions that must have filled the breast of 18-year-old Kamiyah Mobley.
Less than 24 hours after discovering that she had been abducted at birth from a Florida hospital, Kamiyah found herself in a South Carolina courtroom staring across at the women who – until very recently – she had no reason to doubt was her biological mother.
That woman, 51-year-old Gloria Williams, was now sitting in the dock behind a protective screen facing charges of kidnapping Kamiyah when she was just eight hours old – turned overnight from a mother to a kidnapper.
But Kamiyah showed no trace of anger towards the woman who had brought her up, at one point walking over to Williams and touching her hands through the screen. “I love you”, she was heard to say to the woman she still called “Momma”.
Williams, whose mother, father and pastor were also present, was seen blowing a kiss at her family. She is reported to have suffered a miscarriage a week before the abduction.
Yesterday Kamiyah again defended the woman who raised her in Walterboro, South Carolina, a small, racially mixed town of 5,000 people 50 miles west of Charleston where the family moved seven years ago.
“My mother raised me with everything I needed and most of all everything I wanted,” Kamiyah wrote on Facebook. “My mother is no felon.”
Pictures posted on social media showed the two riding happily in together in a car and Kamiyah with her high school friends.
That word – “Momma” – was the single word that Kamiyah later cried through the grille of a security door as Williams waived extradition to Florida, where she will now faces charges of kidnapping.
The case broke after a tip-off to by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children led police to the home of Williams where they identified Kamiyah as the missing child of Shanara Mobley, abducted from a hospital room in Jacksonville, Florida on July 10 1998.
DNA swabs and analysis of fraudulent documents used to register Kamiyah’s ‘birth’ by Williams quickly confirmed that the young woman who knew herself as Alexis Manigo was in fact Kamiyah Mobley.
Grainy footage, recorded on CCTV, showed pictures of a woman dressed as a nurse, wearing scrubs and surgical gloves, leaving the University Medical Centre, Florida with the baby in her arms wrapped in a pink and blue blanket.
But if Kamiyah’s apparent loyalty to her ‘mother’ had caused pain among her biological family 200 miles away in Florida, they appeared to be overwhelmed by the joyfulness of the news that the child they had lost, was now found.
They were reunited via a FaceTime videochat, according to police.
“I always hoped and prayed that this day would happen,” Kamiyah’s father, Craig Aiken, told a local TV station. “I never gave up, you never lose hope, no matter how much time passes, you never give up.”
Velma Aiken, Kamiyah’s grandmother, said the family were taking things very slowly. “I saw her the day that she was taken and I haven’t seen her since and I don’t want to scare her away,” she said. “So I’m going slow motion.”
“She’s taking it as well as you can imagine,” added Mike Williams, the sheriff of Jacksonville of Kamiyah, “She has a lot to process. She has a lot to think about.”
She had only begun to suspect a couple of months ago that her past might not be altogether normal, he said, declining to give further details.