Aniah’s Heart founder talks personal safety to GVACC junior ambassadors

Published 9:00 am Thursday, January 4, 2024

The Greater Valley Area Chamber of Commerce junior ambassador program hosted Angela Harris, a sexual assault nurse and the founder of Aniah’s Heart, to talk about violence and crime prevention and safety education. While there, Harris also discussed an Alabama law passed in 2022 called Aniah’s Law.

Aniah’s Heart, a violence and crime prevention organization that provides safety education and self-defense training as well as search and recovery support for victims’ families, was named after 19-year-old Aniah Blanchard from Homewood, Alabama. 

Blanchard, Harris’ daughter, disappeared from Auburn in 2019 and remained missing for 32 days. Eventually, her remains were found in Macon County. It was later discovered that she had been kidnapped from a gas station and murdered by a repeat offender. 

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Harris founded Aniah’s Heart to help raise awareness for safety training and prevent others from becoming victims. She has since spoken about personal safety plans and situational awareness at Auburn University, Homewood High School, Dadeville High School and others. 

“After we had her celebration of life, it just hit me,” Harris said. “It was no thought I had to put into it. It was like ‘I need to teach people how to keep themselves safe, how to prevent them from becoming a victim.’”

The organization also hosts self-defense training and partners with search and rescue teams for missing people. 

Harris said the suspect in Aniah’s death was a repeat offender who was out on bond for attempted murder, kidnapping and robbery. With the help of State Representative Chip Brown, of Mobile, Harris got involved with a bond reform bill. In Nov. 2022, Alabama passed Aniah’s Law, a bill that expanded on the serious crimes for which judges can deny bail. 

The bill added Class-A felonies including murder, kidnapping, assault, sexual torture, rape, domestic violence, human trafficking, aggravated child abuse and terrorism. After a hearing and cross-examination, the judge can decide to deny bail for a defendant. 

Harris said the bill is already being used in cases in the state including the case involving last year’s Dadeville shooting which made national news. 

Harris gave tips like always being aware of your surroundings when getting in or out of your car in a high-traffic area and making sure you share your location using apps like Life360. Harris said the places where the most crimes happen are grocery stores and gas stations. 

“Don’t be in a hurry,” Harris said. “We can get in a hurry as humans. We all do but you got to be mindful. Be aware of your surroundings when you’re getting out of the store … Look around to see what’s going on first.”

Harris said to avoid wearing a purse in public, especially on the shoulder, because it marks an easy target. She suggested carrying a personal safety weapon like pepper spray on your keychain and staying on the phone with someone while you are alone if you feel unsafe. 

Another thing Harris said people should never do is follow a stranger who asks for help. Many people use traps to lure victims into a vulnerable position.

“You have to be brave, and be courageous,” Harris said. “And you have to be able to say no to people if somebody comes up to you and asks for help.”

Another tip Harris gave was to write down passwords to email and other accounts and leave them with someone you trust in case of an emergency. Harris said that by accessing her daughter’s email account she found a debit card receipt that helped them piece together what happened to Aniah in her final moments of life. 

Giving at least one person access to your passwords can give law enforcement a head start on figuring out what has happened in a missing persons case. 

She said never to post your location on social media and not to post vacation photos until you get back from vacation. Many offenders can use that information to plan a crime.

For more information about Aniah’s Heart or Aniah’s Law, visit aniahsheart22.com.