Body Found in Search of Hania Aguilar

Body Found in Search of Hania Aguilar

Hania AguilarFor many families across North America, the holiday season has begun—a season for spending time with family and reflecting on the blessings in your life. For Hania Aguilar’s family however, this joyous time of year has already been marred by her disappearance. On November 5th, 2018, a man dressed in black with a yellow bandana abducted the 13-year-old while she was outside her home at the Rosewood Mobile Home Park in Lumberton, North Carolina

The incident has caused a fresh surge of panic in a town already pockmarked by cases of other missing women, with the Aguilar’s neighbors keeping their children on a much shorter leash. Parents with anxieties of their children becoming vulnerable to local predators have had their every fear validated by a man in black with terrible motives. Teresa Lauderback is one of these hypervigilant parents, “I’m on top of them at the bus stop every morning and make sure they get on the bus before I walk away.” The mayor of Lumberton, Bruce Davis, also commented on the heightened anxiety in his community, citing the multiple inquiries he’s received about the case, “Everybody is concerned and they’re on edge…They ask all the time, and I have to tell them the FBI does not talk to the mayor. In fact, the FBI doesn’t talk to anybody.”

Hania had gone outside that chilly morning to start her aunt’s green SUV when the man in black appeared and snatched her from her own front yard. In the weeks after Hania’s disappearance, local law enforcement and the FBI held press conferences where they implored the community to come forward with any information they might have about the Lumberton teen. Those press briefings slowed to a staccato rhythm that eventually went quiet.  As citizen inquiries in the case remain steady, law enforcement has recently suspended all future press-conferences, barring significant developments in the case.

In an effort to kick up further leads, the FBI and law enforcement implored the local deer hunters of Robeson County to check their video devices for any sign of the SUV, a stolen Ford Expedition, used to abduct Hania. “We are at a critical phase in our investigation and need the public’s help,” the press release said. “If we do not reach everyone with video soon, that video could be lost, as many systems will purge the older footage automatically.” The SUV was eventually located off of Quincy Drive, approximately ten miles from Hania’s home. In addition to deer hunters, homeowners were also asked to check any home security systems with video in order to track the SUV’s movements. Police are seeking a man seen in one such surveillance video, who was walking in the area about an hour before Hania was abducted. He was seen walking on Lambeth Street, headed towards the mobile home park in the minutes leading up to Hania’s disappearance. The search for this possible witness has only grown more desperate, as the investigation took a bleak turn.

In the fourth week of the search for Hania, a body was found by law enforcement while searching for the missing teen. The body was discovered off of Wiregrass Road, approximately ten miles from Hania’s home. At that time, there were at least four investigative bodies searching: The FBI, Lumberton PD, the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office, and the SBI. A press release from the superintendent of Robeson County Schools read, “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.” The superintendent also assured the district that they would be increasing all available resources to support the students and staff at Hania’s school, Lumberton Junior High School. Law enforcement have stated that the remains have been sent to a North Carolina state crime lab located in Raleigh for autopsy and identification.

Unfortunately, Hania’s disappearance is another in a series of disappearances and killings that have haunted Lumberton for almost two years. In 2016, an FBI report revealed that there were 393 violent crimes in Lumberton, more than there are days in the year. The FBI’s analysts determined that a single resident of Lumberton has a 1 in 55 chance of being raped, assaulted, or killed. On April 18th, 2017, Christina Bennett, 32, and Rhonda Jones, 36 were both found dead within 100 yards of each other. Bennett’s body was discovered in an abandoned house, and the body of Jones was recovered from a trash can just across the alley. Both bodies were in an advanced stage of composition when they were found. A few months later in June, the remains of missing woman Megan Oxendine were found in another abandoned house within a two-mile radius of Bennett and Jones. Other women, like Cynthia Jacobs, 41, and Abby Lynn Patterson, 20, have also gone missing from this neighborhood, but were never found. The disappearance of Hania Aguilar has reignited community suspicion that there is a singular apex predator in their midst, targeting women for motives unknown. Community member Robert Norris told the media, “The first thing that comes to mind is that she had to have been watched or someone knew her routine. There’s a lot of possibilities…but nobody really knows until she is found and everything can be investigated. You hear these stories on TV, like in California or New York, and never think it could be right in your own backyard. It makes you get a sense of security and awareness about you that you’ve never had before.”

The community gathered on Wednesday to support Hania’s family. Hania’s mother has appeared in media coverage throughout the search, often with her priest at her side, telling the cameras, “I don’t have words to describe how I feel.” Despite the fear and confusion surrounding her daughter’s disappearance, she is a rock as she delivers a message to the abductor, in Spanish, “Return my daughter. I need her. I am suffering for her. Her sisters are, too.” Further commenting on this investigation’s ‘tragic end,’ the superintendent of Robeson County Schools declared, “We are keeping Hania in our thoughts and will continue to pray for her family and each other as the investigation continues.”

Carie McMichael is the Communication and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations. She regularly writes on missing person and investigation topics. For more information, please visit our website. 

Police Unable to Connect Deaths of 3 Lumberton Women

Police Unable to Connect Deaths of 3 Lumberton Women

2560px-Downtown_Lumberton_North_CarolinaNear the southern tip of North Carolina, where I-74 and I-95 meet, there’s a town called Lumberton. In 1995, the town became the two-time winner of the National Civic Leagues All-America City Award, which aims to recognize communities “whose citizens work together to identify and tackle community-wide challenges and achieve uncommon results.” Unfortunately, in a matter of decades, Lumberton has fallen from recipient of the All-America City Award to the number one spot on the FBI’s list of the top ten most dangerous cities in North Carolina.

According to a 2016 FBI report, there were 393 violent crimes in Lumberton and analysts estimate an individual resident has a 1 in 55 chance of being raped, assaulted, or killed. These overwhelming statistics could explain why the details emerging from Lumberton in recent months read more like a titillating summer mystery novel than a modern-day Mayberry—the citizens stewing in fear and suspicion as law enforcement continue to investigate the three murders and smattering of disappearances plaguing the small North Carolina town in the last year.

48501AF400000578-5288341-image-m-22_1516363527046On April 18th, 2017, the remains of two women were found in central Lumberton less than 100 yards from one another. The remains of Christina Bennett, 32, were found in an abandoned house after a neighbor called authorities about a rancid odor coming from the property. Police also discovered the remains of Rhonda Jones, 36, stuffed in a trash can not even a football field distance away. The remains of both women were in an advanced stage of decomposition, not only preventing authorities from establishing a time of death, but also preventing them from establishing a cause of death for both women. Police Captain Terry Parker confirmed the women were both identified through medical records.

web1_5078-MMS-1515169868510-attachment1-received_101551567753906901201815142013421-1The community was staggered by the tragedy. Rhonda Jones’s family had known something was wrong when she didn’t show up for Easter. Jones’ sister told the Robesonian“I want whoever did this to be punished. I know somebody knows something. Because Rhonda knows everybody in thE area. Somebody knows what happened to Rhonda,” Price said. “She had five kids… She had a family that loved her… She had a granddaughter that she loved with all of her heart. Somebody needs to be punished for what they did to her. She didn’t deserve this. No one deserved that.”

In early June, the remains of Megan Oxendine were found in another abandoned house on 9th Street in central Lumberton. The discovery of her body came as a chilling twist to the citizens of Lumberton, as many recalled her interview with news media the day after the discovery of the remains of her friend, Rhonda Jones. In April 2017, Oxendine joined many across the community who had spoken out about the loss of Jones. She told CBS North Carolina, “I ain’t never seen her act out or nothing. She’s just quiet. She didn’t really mess with too many people.”  Just as, in the cases of Christina Bennett and Rhonda Jones, Oxendine’s state of decomposition prevented authorities from establishing both time of death and cause of death.  This makes her the third woman web1_Megan-Oxendine201839162925537-248x245found in a four-block radius in central Lumberton in two months. Although law enforcement has yet to link the deaths of the three women, Private investigator Thomas Lauth of Lauth Investigations International speculates that the discovery of their remains could be the patterned behavior of a single perpetrator, “Commonly in cases where the victim(s) are first missing then found deceased in a very small geographic area, the perpetrator of such a heinous crime will kill again, and resides within a 10-20 mile radius. Perhaps even had prior interaction with the victim or their family. Further, if the community has a high rate of crime from meth or heroin, it could bring outside traffickers and other transients into the community which increases the propensity for murder.” Police have reported the neighborhood has been a hive of criminal activity for years but are unable to connect any of the deaths to the criminal element.  

It was in June of 2017 the Lumberton Police Department officially requested the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in what is officially called “the death investigations” of the three women. As recently as last month, March 2018, investigators conducted a canvas of the area where the three women were found. Over the course of three days, they knocked on 800 doors, conducted 500 interviews, and continued to encourage the public to come forward with any information.

875bbd99-7cbd-491d-be43-c3e7909ed705-large16x9_WPDE_abandonedhomebodyfoundlumberton_6.7.17Since the beginning of the FBI’s involvement in the death investigations, two more women have gone missing from the Lumberton area. The first woman is Cynthia Jacobs, 41, who went missing sometime in July 2017. Her disappearance strikes those who knew her as “suspicious” because, according to her sister-in-law, Cynthia was the last person to see Megan Oxendine—the third woman found—alive and well. The second woman was 20-year-old Abby Lynn Patterson. On September 5th, 2017, after telling her mother she was leaving the house to run errands, it was reported Abby Lynn was last seen getting into a car with a male acquaintance on East 9th Street, 1000 yards from where Christina Bennett and Rhonda Jones had been found. Captain Terry Parker of the Lumberton Police Department told CBS 17, “While there is always a possibility, we are 99 percent sure the case is not related to the females this spring and early summer.”

Five women have either disappeared or been discovered dead in the same neighborhood over the course of six months. A little over a year later, police and federal investigators have yet to establish a cause of death in the cases of Christina Bennett, Rhonda Jones, and Megan Oxendine. They have yet to name any suspects in their deaths. They are currently offering $30,000 for anyone who can lead investigators to the truth of what happened to the three women. Cynthia Jacobs and Abby Lynn Patterson have not had contact with their families since they were last reported seen in Lumberton. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of the missing women should call the Lumberton Police Department at (910)-671-3845.