North Carolina

Body found has been identified as kidnapped NC 13-year-old Hania Aguilar, FBI says

The body that the FBI and Lumberton police found in Robeson County was identified Wednesday as kidnapped 13-year-old Hania Noelia Aguilar.

Lumberton police detectives and FBI agents discovered the body in an area near Wire Grass Road in Lumberton about 4:45 p.m. Tuesday, the FBI said in a news release.

The body was removed from the scene Tuesday and taken to the state crime lab in Raleigh, according to the FBI. On Wednesday, the FBI and Lumberton police announced that the body had been “preliminarily identified” as Hania.

“We believe we have found the body of Hania Aguilar,” Lumberton Police Chief Michael McNeil said during a news conference on Wednesday, adding that Hania’s body was found “in a body of water.”

“We’re absolutely devastated,” McNeil said. “I wish we had a different outcome for Hania’s family, for the community and for the hundreds of law enforcement officers and searchers who put everything they had into finding her alive.”

The FBI said it has no persons of interest “at this time” and no arrests had been made in the case as of Wednesday afternoon.

An autopsy will be completed by the state medical examiner’s office to determine cause of death, McNeil said, and dental records will be used to further identify the body.

The FBI said her body was “not obvious” and the area it was found “cannot be seen from the road.”

The FBI and police had asked the public for any surveillance video or photos from the area last week, and they had looked in the area by air and on foot previously.

Wire Grass Road, where the body was found, is several miles south of Hania’s home, where she was last seen on the morning of Nov. 5.

Law enforcement said work on Hania’s case is “far from over.”

“Please continue to pray for Hania’s family and we ask the community to please quit spreading the rumors on social media,” McNeil said. “This is the outcome that we all feared. We all wanted to bring Hania home alive to our community. We will not stop until we find the person or persons responsible and we will bring them to justice.”

“We are all heartbroken,” said FBI senior supervisory special agent Andy Delarocha, adding that investigators have yet to discover how Hania died and who is responsible for her death.

“Last night I had to stand in front of Hania’s mother and tell her what we had found,” Delarocha said, pleading with the public to continue to call 910-272-5871 with tips for law enforcement.

First Lady of North Carolina Kristin Cooper shared her condolences for Hania’s family on Twitter Wednesday.

“Our hearts are heavy with the news of Hania Aguilar’s passing. As a mother, this loss is unimaginable. We prayed for Hania’s safe return, and now our deepest condolences are with her family as we pray for their peace,” Cooper wrote.

Hania, a Lumberton Junior High School student, was waiting outside her home in the 3000 block of East Elizabethtown Road to get a ride to school from her family. Just before 7 a.m., she was forced into a running SUV parked in the driveway, a relative’s car, police said. A witness heard the girl scream and saw a man wearing black clothes and a yellow bandana force her into the SUV and drive away, police said.

On Tuesday, the FBI said it had notified Hania’s family of the body’s discovery “out of an abundance of caution.”

“Please continue to pray for Hania, her family, and each other as the investigation continues to find out who kidnapped Hania and hold them responsible,” the release said.

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The FBI said its agents and local law enforcement “have followed close to 800 leads” and had completed at least 400 interviews in the search for Hania.

The FBI and Gov. Roy Cooper’s office have been offering a reward of up to $30,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person who kidnapped Hania.

On Friday, the FBI said in an email to The News & Observer that it was searching “areas of interest” in Robeson County, including homes and businesses where they were requesting surveillance video “in an effort to narrow down exactly when and how the family’s stolen SUV” got from Hania’s home to “where it was found on Quincey Drive.”

The stolen SUV was found abandoned about 10 miles from Hania’s home in Rosewood Mobile Home Park shortly after her disappearance, police said.

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The FBI has been seeking surveillance footage to assist in the search and focused attention on finding a man seen walking near Hania’s home. The FBI said it hoped the man could be of assistance.

“On Nov. 8, the FBI released surveillance footage of a man walking toward Rosewood Mobile Home Park on the morning of Nov. 5, leading up to the hour when Hania was kidnapped. The FBI continues to ask the public to help identify the man that is seen walking on Lambeth Street who then turns left onto Elizabethtown Road. He appears to be wearing light-colored shoes, a light-colored shirt and a hoodie,” the N&O previously reported.

A GoFundMe campaign was launched on Nov. 11 by Adrian Harrold Wood, of Edenton, N.C., on behalf of Hania’s family.

“I’m just a mom trying to help another,” Wood wrote.

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News & Observer reporter Abbie Bennett is a charter member of the McClatchy Carolinas real-time team. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and has won awards for her investigative, politics and breaking news reporting.