PROTECTING OTHERS: In midst of bill proposal, roommate of slain Blanchard speaks about losing friend

Published 10:13 am Friday, February 21, 2020

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With the Aniah Law passing through the judiciary committee, Blanchard’s former roommate and Andalusia native Sarah O’Brien said the law will provide safety to girls all over the state. 

The bill is named Aniah’s Law after college student Aniah Blanchard, who was abducted in Auburn last year and murdered. The man charged with her murder was out on bond after charges of several violent offenses at the time he was arrested in the Blanchard case.

One of the bills is a constitutional amendment and would require approval by voters if it passes the Legislature. The Alabama Constitution affirms the right to bail for those accused of crimes except capital crimes. The legislation, proposed by Rep. Chip Brown, R-Mobile, would expand that exception to the right to bail to cover certain other violent offenses.

Brown said the change would allow prosecutors to request that defendants be held without bail and give judges the discretion to hold a hearing and determine if denial of bail is warranted.

“This bill truly means so much, because Aniah was a fighter,” O’Brien said. “This was actually her biggest fear. She would have nightmares every night of someone coming in the house and so it is so sad that that is the way that she went. Now it’s like she is making it safer for any other girl who has that fear. I mean, it is terrible for people who have shot police officers and kidnapped people to be walking free.” 

From day one, O’Brien said Blanchard’s mother was fighting for her. 

“I remember working from day one,” O’Brien said. “When Aniah didn’t come home, I called her mom and the cops were there saying that it is all about the first 48 hours. We never lost hope, but even if we did find her, this was something that was not O.K., and something has to happen. From that point on, we were contacting people and calling people to find out what we could do to make sure this never happened again.” 

With the bill passing through the judiciary committee, O’Brien said she was shocked. 

“It literally feels amazing,” O’Brien said. “It feels like she is here giving me a hug. She is doing this and we are making a difference. I made a Facebook post that said, “You are making a difference on this Earth or off of it.” 

O’Brien attended her first year of college in Auburn, which is where she met Blanchard, her best friend and future roommate. Now, after her passing, O’Brien found herself in a position where she is struggling with anxiety. 

“I have moved home from Auburn, just because I have anxiety attacks now,” O’Brien said. “I’m going to LBW and just moved into my own apartment with a roommate and even last night I was so scared when I got to the parking lot I called my mom just to walk into the house. I am just terrified.”

Throughout the experience, O’Brien said she has clung to her faith and will keep on clinging. 

“I rely on God,” O’Brien said. “I pray all of the time. I am very religious and I go to talk with my pastor all of the time. I just want people to know about her and what her life stood for.”

Blanchard’s father, Elijah Blanchard, stepmother, Yashiba Blanchard, and mother, Angela Harris, spoke to the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday in support of the two bills. The committee approved the bills, putting them in line for a vote by the House as early as next week.