• Man accused of raping, killing Lumberton teen could face death penalty

    Updated:

    ROBESON COUNTY, N.C. - The man accused of raping and murdering 13-year-old Hania Aguilar appeared in front of a judge Monday morning. 

    Officials said during the short appearance the judge revoked 34-year-old Michael Ray McLellan's bond and said he could face the death penalty in the case.

    According to officials, McLellan was due in court again later in the day regarding a different criminal case he faces.

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    [RELATED: Community pays respects to kidnapped, slain Lumberton teen]

    After following more than 850 leads and conducting nearly 500 interviews, the FBI and the Lumberton Police arrested and charged McLellan in connection to Aguilar's abduction and death.

    Agents announced early Saturday morning McLellan had been charged and was being held at the time of his arrest in law enforcement custody on charges unrelated to Aguilar's case.

    (Michael McLellan)


    CHARGES:

    • 1st Degree Murder
    • 1st Degree Forcible Rape
    • Statutory rape of a person under 15 years of age or younger
    • 1st Degree sexual offense 
    • Statutory sex offense with a person 15 years or younger
    • 1st degree kidnapping
    • Felony Larceny 
    • Felony Restraint
    • Abduction of Child
    • Concealment of a Death

    Investigators received new test results Friday which identified McLellan as the suspect in Aguilar's case.

    He'd been released from prison in June and was still on parole from a 2017 felony breaking and entering conviction, according to the Associated Press. He was previously convicted in 2007 of assault with a deadly weapon and was released on parole in 2016.

    He is being held without bond in the Robeson County Detention Center. He will appear in court at the Robeson County Courthouse on Monday.

    Authorities said McLellan was already in custody for another attempted kidnapping case.

    Fairmont police said on Oct. 15 McLellan pointed a gun at a woman, tried to take her car, and demanded money. He left the scene without hurting the woman. Officials said he turned himself in to police on Nov. 13, eight days after Aguilar was kidnapped.


    We first updated WSOCTV news app users with a notification just after 6 a.m. Saturday that authorities had charged a man in connection to the kidnapping and murder of 13-year-old Hania Aguilar. 

    Download the WSOCTV news app for your smartphone and get updates on this developing story as they come in.


    A body found in Robeson County was preliminarily identified as kidnapped Aguilar, investigators said on Nov. 27, ending a three-week search involving hundreds of investigators.

    “We are absolutely devastated. 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,” Lumberton Police Chief Michael McNeill said at a news conference. 

    On Nov. 5, police said Aguilar went outside to start a relative's SUV to prepare to leave for the bus stop when a man forced her into the vehicle and fled.

    Her disappearance sparked an intensive search. Drones, dogs and scores of searchers on foot spent the following weeks combing the area. Police found her body several weeks later in a body of water about 10 miles south of the mobile home park where she was kidnapped.

    "This is the outcome that we all feared," Lumberton Police Chief Michael McNeill told reporters after the body was found. "We did not want to hear this. We wanted to bring Hania back home and bring her back home alive to our community. It hurts."


    Timeline:

    • Nov. 5 -- A man wearing all black and a yellow bandanna kidnapped Hania Aguilar from her front yard on Elizabethtown Road, forcing her into the family's SUV. Authorities issued an Amber Alert.
    • Nov. 7 -- The FBI released surveillance video of the stolen SUV seen in Lumberton moments after the girl’s kidnapping.
    • Nov. 8 -- Authorities found the stolen SUV not far from the kidnapping scene, but there was no sign of Hania.
    • Nov. 27 – FBI and police find human remains off Wire Grass Road. 
    • Nov. 28 -- Preliminary test results from the medical examiner indicate body found was that of Hania. 
    • Dec. 8 -- The FBI and Lumberton police arrest and charge 34-year-old Michael Ray McLellan for his involvement in the abduction and murder of Hania Aguilar. 

    Police said they followed more than 850 leads and conducted nearly 500 interviews. The FBI's lab at Quantico, Virginia did a forensic exam on the stolen SUV, which was recovered a few days after Aguilar's initial disappearance. The North Carolina State Crime Lab provided test results on Aguilar's body. Police said the exams helped result in the charges against McLellan.

    A large turnout is expected at Aguilar's funeral Saturday at Lumberton High School. Her father, who lives in Guatemala, was denied an expedited visa to attend his daughter's funeral.

    Police said the investigation is ongoing and additional charges could be filed.

    'This is not the outcome we wanted': Police find body of missing Lumberton teenager

    A news release issued on Nov. 27 said FBI agents and detectives of the Lumberton Police Department found the body of what they believed to be Hania Aguilar around 4:45 p.m.in an area off Wire Grass Road, east of Interstate 95 and south of Lumberton.

    [FBI: Search continues for kidnapped North Carolina teen]

    The police chief said Hania's body was found in a body of water in Robeson County about 10 miles south of the mobile home park where she was kidnapped on Nov. 5 after going outside to start a relative's SUV before school.

    Authorities wouldn't elaborate on whether the body had been concealed, but said it was not visible from the road or obvious to people passing by. Investigators spent Wednesday combing the area in daylight after finding the body the previous night.

    The cause of death hasn't been released, pending an autopsy. Investigators would not describe the condition of the body. An FBI official said he did not have any information as to whether Hania was killed where she was found or elsewhere.

    Police said a man forced Hania into an SUV and drove off. The SUV was found several miles south of her mobile home park. The body was found a few miles farther away.

    McNeill has previously said that a witness saw a man dressed in black with a yellow bandana grab Hania in the Rosewood Mobile Home Park in Lumberton. Police said the eighth-grader had taken her aunt's keys to start the vehicle to prepare to leave for the bus stop. They say the man forced her into the green Ford Expedition and drove off.

    The FBI soon joined the search, offering reward money and transmitting her picture around the country. The SUV was found abandoned several days later, but signs of the girl or her remains eluded investigators for several weeks.

    Aguilar's mother and other family members gathered at the Lumberton Police Department Tuesday night, waiting on developments in the case. Her mother, visibly distraught, was led away in an ambulance. The FBI said that the last three weeks have taken a toll on the family.

    Authorities had an extensive perimeter set up and the area was blocked off. A neighbor described the area where investigators were working.

    "On one side, it's a wooded area. On the other ... it's a creek with a little house, but on the side (investigators) were on, it's a wooded area," said Anita Hunt. "The little girl that's been missing, that's all that goes through my mind since she's been missing."

    The neighborhood has been on constant alert in the three weeks since Aguilar was kidnapped.

    "She's 13. She's a baby," Hunt said. "Everywhere I go, I'm looking. You can't help it."

    "I'm hoping that it's not her," neighbor Annie Hall added. She said her son played with Aguilar and that she was well known and loved by many in the neighborhood.

    Kids haven't been playing outside nearly as much since Aguilar's abduction. 

    "She used to be in the neighborhood, play with the kids, basketball out in the yard. All the kids would play out in the yard," Hall said. "There was never a problem like this before."

    The Public Schools of Robeson County Superintendent Dr. Shanita Wooten released the following statement after the body was found:

    “Hania Noelia Aguilar, a Public Schools of Robeson County student, was abducted outside of her home in Lumberton, North Carolina on the morning of November 5, 2018. FBI agents and Lumberton Police recovered a body on Tuesday afternoon (November 27, 2018) in Robeson County in an area off Wire Grass Road. At the time of discovery, officials were following leads related to the search for 13-year-old Hania Noelia Aguilar. The body is believed to be Hania, but the identity has not yet been confirmed. However, authorities have notified Hania's family and they are waiting for the body to be positively identified.

    "Superintendent Dr. Shanita Wooten and Lumberton Junior High School Principal Dr. SaVon Maultsby received word of the potentially tragic conclusion to the search by Sergeant Pete Locklear of the Lumberton Police Department. Upon receiving full confirmation, the district will provide increased support staff that will be made available for all students and staff at Lumberton Junior High School. 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.

    "On behalf of PSRC district leaders, administrators, staff and students, we extend our sincerest condolences to Hania’s family, friends, and community. This is a difficult time for our entire district and we are mourning this loss and are still processing this terrible tragedy. We are keeping Hania in our thoughts and will continue to pray for her family and each other as the investigation continues.”

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