In a heartbreaking development in a closely followed case, authorities now believe that Hania Aguilar, the missing 13-year-old girl from North Carolina who was grabbed in broad daylight from her own driveway, is deceased.
The tragic news broke on November 28, 2018, when Lumberton police said they think a body discovered by searchers the day before is the missing teen. “We believe we have found the body of 13-year-old Hania Aguilar…This is the outcome we all feared… It hurts. Our work is not over. We will not stop, we will not stop, until we find the person or persons responsible, and we bring them to justice,” Lumberton Police Chief Michael McNeill said in a news conference.
“We are absolutely devastated,” McNeill said. “I wish we had a different outcome for Hania’s family, for the community that she lived in and for the hundreds of law enforcement officers and searchers who put everything, everything they had into finding her and bringing her back alive.” He said that authorities are awaiting a dental test comparison for final verification but preliminary tests point to the body being Hania. “Please continue to pray for Hania’s family and for each other.”
There was an Amber Alert for the teen. A GoFundMe account has been set up to help Hania’s family.
On Tuesday, November 27, 2018, the FBI’s Charlotte office announced on Twitter that a body was found in an area being searched by agents looking for Hania. That body was found in water, and the cause of death has not yet been released.
According to the FBI, her full name is Hania Noelia Aguilar. The 8th grader disappeared on November 5, 2018 from Lumberton, North Carolina. Authorities launched an aggressive effort to find her. Despite reports to the contrary in local media, FBI Supervisory Senior Resident Agent Andy de la Rocha said there is no person of interest in the case; there have been no arrests. McNeill implored the community not to spread rumors on social media. De la Rocha said, without being specific, that a lot of information floating around the Internet is false.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. A Man Wearing a Yellow Bandana Forced Hania Aguilar Into a Ford Expedition, Authorities Say
The Lumberton Police Department and the FBI are both investigating the kidnapping and death of Hania Noelia Aguilar. De la Rocha said the FBI is working “constantly and diligently” with other agencies to try to figure out how Hania died, and who was responsible. He said authorities were in the area anyway searching when they found the body. “We came upon the area where we found Hania,” he said.
He said there was evidence at the scene and that authorities received tips from the public that is helping them piece together what happened to the teenager. Police targeted that area because of tips they received. It’s a wide open area with a lot of wetland, wooded area, and private land, authorities said.
According to the FBI, Hania “was outside her home at the Rosewood Mobile Home Park located at 3525 Elizabethtown Road, Lumberton, North Carolina, on November 5, 2018. A witness saw a male subject dressed in all black and wearing a yellow bandana force Hania into a green, 2003 Ford Expedition with South Carolina license plate NWS-984. On November 8, the stolen SUV used in the kidnapping of Hania Aguilar was found near Quincey Road in Lumberton, North Carolina.”
The FBI also released further details, saying, “Hania was outside her home at the Rosewood Mobile Home Park located at 3525 Elizabethtown Road, Lumberton, North Carolina, on November 5, 2018 just before 7:00 a.m. She had gone outside just before her family left to drive to school. A witness heard her scream, looked outside, and saw a male subject dressed in all black and wearing a yellow bandana force Hania into a relative’s vehicle that was parked in the driveway. The vehicle is a green, 2002/2003 Ford Expedition with South Carolina license plate NWS-984. The paint on the hood is peeling and there is a Clemson sticker on the rear window. An Amber Alert was issued. The Amber Alert remains active; the vehicle information has been removed.”
According to ABC 11, the SUV belonged to Hania’s family. “Hania was warming up her family’s Ford Expedition before school when a man in a bandanna shoved her into the SUV and took off,” the television station reported.
“Hania is a Hispanic female, five feet tall, weighing approximately 126 pounds. She has black hair and brown eyes. She was last seen wearing a blue shirt with flowers and blue jeans. Hania’s family is working with law enforcement and fully cooperating with investigators to locate the teen,” the FBI said before the body was found.
The FBI said it’s not clear how long the body was at the scene where it was found. It was in an area not immediately visible.
2. Authorities Released Surveillance Video of a Man Walking Near the Scene
Authorities have released several surveillance videos in the case showing a mysterious man walking near the scene.
The FBI wrote with the above video, “The Lumberton Police Department and the FBI ask for continued assistance with the investigation into the kidnapping of 13-year-old Hania Noelia Aguilar on November 5, 2018. Investigators have released surveillance footage of a person seen walking on surveillance video near the kidnapping scene. If you have any information as to the identity of this individual or any information in this case, contact the tip line at (910) 272-5871.”
The FBI released several videos. The videos “show what appears to be a man wearing light-colored shoes, a light-colored shirt, and a hoodie walking down Lambeth Street and then turns left on Highway 41/Elizabethtown Highway towards the Rosewood Mobile Home Park. Several vehicles were seen on the video driving by,” the FBI reported.
“Someone knows this man and we need you to call us. Maybe you recognize the way he walks, his mannerisms, or maybe he will recognize himself on TV. The public was critical in the recovery of the SUV, now we need you to come through again for us. Who is the man on the video?”, said Supervisory Resident Agent Andy Delarocha, FBI.
Authorities need the public’s help. “A special tip line has been established to help find Hania; call 910-272-5871 if you have information to help investigators with the case. If you live or own a business on or around Quincey Road, and have a video surveillance camera system, please call our tip line at 910-272-5871. You can also call the Lumberton Police Department at 910-671-3845,” the FBI says.
3. The Vehicle Used to Kidnap Hania Was Found in the Woods
Adding another strange twist to the perplexing case, the vehicle used in the kidnapping was found.
“The stolen SUV was found just before 8:00 a.m. on November 8 off Quincey Drive in Lumberton, North Carolina,” the FBI reports.
“Someone called 911 and said they saw the vehicle backed into the woods. We immediately secured the scene and brought in the FBI’s Evidence Response Team to process the vehicle for evidence to find Hania.”
The suspect was wearing all black. “The 911 call to report Hania’s abduction was made by a neighbor when a relative ran over to get help. The call came in to the Robeson County Communications Center at 6:54 in the morning on November 5, 2018,” the FBI says.
“A female caller speaking Spanish was on the line, and the Robeson County dispatcher quickly requested a Spanish translator to join the call. Initial reports during the 911 described the abductor as a black male. During follow-up interviews, investigators determined the witness had not seen the race of the abductor because he was wearing all black, including long sleeves, and a yellow bandana over his face. The information was transferred to the Lumberton Police Department who received the call at 6:58 a.m.”
4. Hania’s Family Calls Her Their ‘Princess’
According to Shelley Lynch of FBI Charlotte, speaking before the body was found, “Hania’s family calls her their princess, and they desperately miss her, and they just want their princess home.” Authorities have said they don’t believe Hania knew the person who abducted her.
De la Rocha said in the November 28 press conference: “Last night, I had to stand in front of Hania’s mother and explain to her what we found.”
Authorities have criticized social media posts trashing Hania’s mother.
Hania’s mother Elsa Hernandez wrote a letter to the public in Spanish. Lumberton police translated it, and posted it in Facebook. It reads, “I trust in God that my daughter will return. No one knows the pain I have in my heart. Despite all the criticism and speculation against me, I would never use my daughter’s name in order to take advantage of this situation. I thank all those people who have provided me help. Please, if you know something, call. I ask everyone not to make absurd comments. For the love of God respect my pain. I only want Hania, my princess, back. I miss her.”
Elsa Hernandez told ABC 11 in Spanish, “I don’t have words to describe how I feel….Return her to me because I miss her. She’s a good, sweet girl.” Hania also has a stepfather named Miguel Barrera.
A $25,000 reward is being offered for information leading to Hania Aguilar’s return. On November 21, 2018, Lumberton Police wrote, “Here’s the latest update on our search to #FindHania. There is a lot of investigative work taking place. Since Hania was kidnapped on November 5th the Lumberton Police Department and the FBI along with a number of law enforcement partners have followed close to 800 leads. We’ve conducted hundreds of interviews, some people we’ve talked to several times as we get new information and hope to get more details to help us find our Hania. We’ve done at least 400 interviews in person, that doesn’t count those leads we’ve followed with the help of law enforcement partners throughout the country.”
5. Authorities Were Asking People to Look for a Distinctive Pair of Adidas Shoes
The Lumberton Police and the FBI “are asking the public to be on the lookout for a pair of shoes that belong to 13-year-old Hania Noelia Aguilar,” police wrote on Facebook before the discovery of the body.
“Hania’s family recently purchased a new and very distinctive pair of sneakers for her. They are Adidas brand, white sneakers with black stripes, and colorful stitching on the back heel of the shoe,” said the police statement.
“Think through what you’ve seen since November 5th, have you seen a discarded pair of shoes, did someone try to sell you shoes, did they show up in a donation bin? We want to make sure we draw attention to the shoes because they are distinctive and the kidnapper could try and get rid of them for that reason,” said FBI Supervisory Senior Resident Agent Andy De la Rocha.
The FBI’s Charlotte office has also shared the Milwaukee FBI’s tweet about another missing 13-year-old. Jayme Closs, of Barron, Wisconsin, disappeared from her home on October 15, 2018. Her parents were found shot to death inside the family’s rural residence. Authorities have not revealed any suspects or motive in that disappearance.
There is no public information at this point indicating the two cases might be connected, however.