Local News

Students, staff return to Lumberton middle school with news of Hania Aguilar's death

Posted November 28, 2018 3:01 p.m. EST
Updated December 5, 2018 2:07 p.m. EST

— Students and staff returned to Lumberton Junior High School on Thursday for the first time since learning the news of Hania Aguilar's death.

Law enforcement authorities said Wednesday that a body found Tuesday in Robeson County is believed to be that of the missing teen, who was snatched from outside her family's mobile home three weeks ago.

The announcement capped weeks of searching and pleas by law enforcement authorities for help from the public to help bring the teen home.

"We believe we have found the body of 13-year-old Hania Aguilar," Lumberton Police Chief Michael McNeill said during a press conference. "But the final confirmation will be done by dental comparisons."

Teachers and classmates are heartbroken over the news of the 7th grader's death, and the school's principal announced counseling will be available for students grieving on Thursday.

Andy de la Rocha, a senior FBI agent, said investigators have not identified a person of interest in connection with the girl's slaying. He urged anyone with information about the case to call the tip line at 910-272-5871. A reward for information that leads to an arrest still stands at $30,000, De La Rocha said.

The body that was found Tuesday afternoon off Wire Grass Road in Robeson County was located around 4:45 p.m., less than 10 miles from the girl's home. The area was not visible from the road and the body was found in a small pond, authorities said Wednesday.

"This is heart wrenching that I've got to do this," McNeill said. "This is absolutely devastating. I wish we had a different outcome for Hania's family; for the community 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."

Authorities notified Aguilar’s family about the discovery of the body on Tuesday.

McNeill said the state medical examiner has preliminarily concluded that the body found was Hania. But dental records will provide final confirmation

The body has been removed from the area where it was found and has been sent to the state's crime lab for an autopsy to determine cause of death.

"This is the outcome that we all feared was going to happen" the police chief said. "We wanted to bring Hania back home, and bring her back home alive to our community. It hurts."

Hania was snatched from outside her family's mobile home as she waited for other family members to come outside.

The Robeson County Schools superintendent released a statement Tuesday, which suggested the body was that of the missing teen.

"The body is believed to be Hania, but the identity has not yet been confirmed. This is an unfortunate end to an extensive search and we are committed to supporting all students and staff as they cope with the heartbreaking tragedy."

Hania Aguilar was abducted on Nov. 5 by a man dressed in black and wearing a yellow bandana while she was standing outside her family's home in the Rosewood Mobile Home Park, at 3525 E. Elizabethtown Road.

Hania had just started her aunt’s green SUV when a man jumped in to abduct her. The vehicle was located a few days later in the woods off Quincey Drive, which is about 10 miles from where the teenager was kidnapped.

Over the weekend, authorities said the person who abducted Aguilar may have attempted to get rid of a distinctive pair of sneakers the girl was wearing.

There is surveillance video of a man walking on Lambeth Street before turning north on NC Highway 41 towards the mobile home park minutes before the 13-year-old was kidnapped. FBI officials would like to find that man or anyone who recognizes him from the video, although they have not said he is a suspect.

Lumberton police and agents from the FBI, which has joined in the effort to find the girl, have held several news conferences in which they pleaded for help from anyone who may have seen something on the morning the girl was taken.

Neighbors devastated by Hania's death

Support poured into the Aguilar family home Wednesday afternoon, with family members and friends leaving the home in tears and sadness.

Neighbors at the Rose Wood Mobile Home Park said Aguilar’s kidnapping and death have impacted them deeply.

Christian Santos was one of only a few seen playing outside in the mobile home park.

“I don’t see no one coming outside no more like they used to,” he said. “Everybody has been staying in the house lately.”

“I can’t even bring my brother and sister out here no more,” he continued. “It’s tough, and they can’t even go to school. They ride the bus.”

Throughout the neighborhood, bicycles sat unused in front yards as parents kept their children inside.

"Because something can happen like what already happened with Hania," Victor Feliziano said.

Santos said he was there when Aguilar disappeared Nov. 5. Like other witnesses, he said it happened so fast.

“That morning I was actually out,” Santos said. “I heard screaming, and I saw a car hitting the gas out the trailer park.”

A friend of the family who visited the Aguilar home Wednesday said Hania’s mother was devastated.

"I'm concerned for her mother and about what happened," Juany Martinez said through an interpreter.

Hania’s mother spoke publicly at a vigil weeks ago, pleading for her daughter’s safe return.

“I don’t know who you are, but I know you have a heart,” she said in Spanish at the vigil.