CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have issued an arrest warrant for 44-year-old Humberto Alvarez Mendoza for the murder of Nia Hantzopoulos, who was reported missing nearly two weeks ago.
Officers told Channel 9 that they were able to find Hantzopoulos's body after they found her Toyota Avalon at a popular shopping center in Ballantyne on Tuesday.
Police said she was murdered and transported to that location.
Family members told Channel 9 that Hantzopoulos was found in the trunk of her car.
Detectives are staying tight-lipped about the case, only saying that Hantzopoulos's car was discovered on Conlan Circle, near the intersection of Ballantyne Commons Parkway and Johnston Road.
Her cause of death has not been determined.
"It's sad, you know, it's sad to begin with but it's also surprising," said one man who witnessed the police activity Tuesday morning. "It's, you know, a business area, a medical area. You don't expect these things to happen here."
Police have not said if Mendoza and Hantzopolous knew each other.
The Goodwill store on Highway 51 in south Charlotte is believed to be the last location Hantzopoulos was seen alive two weeks ago. She frequently shopped here for her flea market business.
A spokesperson from Goodwill-Southern Piedmont released the following statement, in part:
"We cannot speak to the specifics in this case because it is an ongoing investigation. We can tell you that the safety of our customers and team members is a top priority. We are fully cooperating with the police and have provided surveillance videos from our store cameras. We appreciate the department’s quick response."
Family members said her accused killer was caught on camera stalking her through the store.
Hantzopoulos was reported missing on Dec. 16.
Relatives told Channel 9 on Wednesday they are very concerned that Mendoza is trying to flee the country to escape justice.
“She didn't deserve this, and we don't want this to happen to anyone else,” Hantzopoulos’ daughter Virginia Karras said.
Federal and local authorities are searching for Mendoza.
Channel 9 spoke with Mendoza's former co-workers at Tin Tin Buffet in Pineville, who described him as a nice, quiet guy.
One employee said Mendoza came to the restaurant five weeks ago to pick up his paycheck and noticed scratches all over his face.
Restaurant employees also said Mendoza did not have a car and walked to the restaurant. One said he lived across the street from the Goodwill where Hantzopoulos was last seen alive.
If anyone sees or knows the whereabouts of Mendoza, police ask to immediately call 911 or contact the Violent Criminal Apprehension Team at 704-336-VCAT.
Family fears worst after south Charlotte woman's disappearance
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police are investigating the disappearance of south Charlotte resident Nia Hantzopoulos.
"We're pleading for help to get Nia safe back home," her husband, Angelo Hantzopoulos, told Channel 9 anchor Liz Foster.
Family members said they have not seen or heard from Nia since she left her home on Quail Ridge Drive last Friday. Her husband of 32 years told Channel 9 that is not like her.
"She loved her family way too much. There's no way she would've left without any contact with anyone," Angelo said.
Nia's family said she is perfectly healthy and doesn't take any medication. She was in her Toyota Avalon last week and was planning to go to the barnyard flea market in Fort Mill.
Family members said Nia sold jewelry at the flea market. They are concerned she could have been targeted because of that.
Channel 9 asked police if they're looking at that as a possibility. A spokesman for the department simply said Nia's disappearance is an ongoing investigation.
"I feel she's in imminent danger," said Nia's daughter, Virginia Karris, who also said that her mother was excited about getting her store ready for Christmas shoppers -- another reason Nia's family suspects foul play in her disappearance.
Now they're praying she is home safely before Christmas.
"We ask for anyone who has any information to realize that she has a family who loves her and wants her home," Karris said.
CMPD is asking anyone who sees or has information about Hantzopoulos to call 911 immediately.
She was driving a silver 2005 Toyota Avalon with the North Carolina tag ZVD-3868.
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