We’re learning more about the investigation into the murder of Hania Aguilar after obtaining many documents recently unsealed by the Robeson County District Attorney’s office.
The lengthy search for the teen captured the attention of millions after her kidnapping. Stories about the case made national headlines again when county officials learned her murder could have been prevented entirely if an unsolved rape case from 2016 had been properly investigated by local law enforcement.
The newly released documents exclusively obtained by News13 give context to the case, detail new witness accounts and explain what investigators found in their searches of the stolen SUV and Michael McLellan’s cell phone.
Thirteen-year-old Hania Aguilar was forced into an idling SUV and kidnapped from a mobile home in Robeson County on November 5, 2018, according to Lumberton police. After weeks of searching, the FBI located the girl’s remains in a body of water off of Wire Grass Road on November 27.
Michael Ray McLellan was charged for Hania’s kidnapping and death on December 8. The press release from the FBI states McLellan was arrested for her murder shortly after forensic test results were processed.
McLellan was already behind bars in Robeson County when the charges in the Aguilar case came down. McLellan had been arrested November 13, 2018 by Fairmont police on unrelated armed robbery and kidnapping charges, warrants confirm.
The morning of the kidnapping
Hania’s cousin reportedly witnessed a male wearing a yellow bandana push the 13-year-old inside a Green Ford SUV and speed out of the Rosewood Mobile home park the morning the kidnapping was reported. Lumberton police say the kidnapping occurred around 6:58 a.m. Probable cause affidavits filed by the District Attorney’s Office note Hania’s cousin was not the only person who reported unusual behavior early that morning in the mobile home park.
Investigators also talked to a person who said they walk the entrance to the park each morning to catch a ride. In the documents obtained by News13, the female said a black male wearing a dark hoodie walked into the mobile home park at 6:15a.m. Upon seeing the male, she told officials she became uncomfortable and she pretended to take a phone call on her cell, at which time the man walked away.
The affidavits also say two more witnesses who live in the park say they saw a person on their porch that morning, possibly trying to break in. When they looked out their window, they saw a black male wearing a mask who then jumped off the porch. Twelve minutes after the witnesses reportedly saw the male on their porch, the 911 call about Hania’s abduction was made.
Another group of witnesses who were familiar with McLellan say he showed up to Deerfield Mobile Home Park the day of the kidnapping wearing all black clothing and a yellow bandana. The witnesses also added that McLellan was all wet. The documents state he had a cup of change in what appeared to be a kids “superhero” cup and he was trying to sell two video monitors. The affidavits say that last time the witnesses saw McLellan, he told them he had no money.
The owner of the stolen Ford SUV initially reported she had a bunch of loose change in the car when it was taken, the affidavit from the DA’s office said.
Other witness interviews
Over the course of the investigation, law enforcement took every opportunity to release video footage from the area and ask people if they recognized the grainy figure caught walking in the area around the time of the abduction. A female called investigators and said a “Michael Ray” might have something to do with the kidnapping after she watched the video.
The female caller didn’t know “Michael Ray’s” last name but did know he had recently been released from prison. She believed he was behind bars for beating an employee and stealing a car from Rock Star Auto Sales a couple of years ago. Later that evening, investigators had determined the full name of the man the caller insisted was in the FBI’s surveillance footage.
Documents also note conversations law enforcement had with people that knew McLellan and talked to him before the kidnapping about crimes McLellan said he wanted commit. One witness described in the documents said McLellan told them he was planning “a lick” and had 3 potential targets. According to the document, “a lick” is slang for committing a robbery. Target one was a mobile home park off NC 41 and Resa Loop Drive. Target two would have been in Pembroke. Target three was described as the mobile home park by the Kia dealership, which investigators allege was referring to the Rosewood Mobile Home Park.
“McLellan stated all the Hispanics live there and they have money and drugs. McLellan added that he had to be careful because there were cameras within this park,” the document stated.
Other people detectives interviewed mentioned when McLellan commits crimes, he likes to wear a yellow bandana to cover his face. The witnesses also said McLellan wears the yellow bandana so people “wouldn’t know he was black” and they would think he was a Latin King gang member.
WHAT INVESTIGATORS FOUND IN THE SEARCH
The FBI notified the community on November 8, 2018, the SUV reportedly used to kidnap Hania Aguilar was located around 8 a.m. off of Quincey Drive in Lumberton.
The affidavit says when investigators searched the car on November 8, two video monitors had been removed from the back of the two front seats of the car. A receipt of property from a search of the 2003 Ford Expedition associated with the kidnapping says 27 items were taken by Lumberton police and turned over to the FBI.
Items taken from the car included DNA swabs, a mailing from DSS in Dorchester County, a photograph of a female, white rope and several clothing items.
A court document provided to News13 says in interviews with McLellan, he denied ever being in the stolen Ford Expedition. Despite his claims, investigators confirm McLellan’s DNA was recovered from the steering wheel. The clothes Hania was believed to have been wearing when she was abducted including her shirt, pants and undergarments were collected from the car. DNA pulled from the child’s clothing also reportedly originated from McLellan.
Investigators also requested tracking data for McLellan’s social media accounts and cell phone. The morning of Hania’s abduction, cell phone towers picked up usage of McLellan’s phone around 4:42 a.m. in the area of Rosewood Mobile Home Park. Usage of his phone was also confirmed in the Fairmont area around 8 a.m. and the Deerfield Mobile Home Park around 8:51 am.
MCLELLAN’S PAST CRIMINAL RECORD
The same affidavits that reveal details about Hania’s case also delve into new details about McLellan’s past.
Michael McLellan’s first conviction noted in the documents was in 2000 when he was found guilty for assault on a child. He was convicted again in 2004 for assault on a child, and convicted of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill and burglary in 2005.
In 2017, McLellan reportedly broke into Rock Star Auto Sales and stole a red Mazda. In 2018, he’s accused of robbing an employee of the Lumberton Dialysis center and firing a gun in the exchange.
The case that put him behind bars most recently took place in October 15, 2018. Fairmont police say a female victim was sitting outside her Fairmont home in her car when McLellan allegedly forced his way in and stole $6 and the car at gunpoint. He was arrested by Fairmont police and booked into the Robeson County Detention Center on November 13.
INVESTIGATION INTO 2016 RAPE CASE
In the new court documents, investigators provide more info on the circumstances around a 2016 rape case brought into the public sphere during the investigation into Hania’s case.
The DNA collected and tested in the Aguilar kidnapping created a profile for McLellan in investigators’ CODIS database. When that profile was created, his DNA could then be compared to that of other unsolved crimes already in the system. A CODIS hit was received by the FBI laboratory on the DNA connecting McLellan to an unsolved 2016 rape case.
Warrants obtained by News13 state McLellan allegedly took the AC unit out of the window and entered the victims home while she was sleeping. The victim said her assailant had a knife, forced her to perform oral sex on him and raped her.
An internal investigation was launched by the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office when it was discovered McLellan could be connected to the 2016 rape case. Former DA Johnson Britt alleges the sheriff’s office did not follow up on DNA results from the rape until McLellan’s DNA was found in the Ford SUV two years later. In a press conference, the former DA explained the sheriff’s department was notified of the rape kit results in November of 2017, but the evidence was “mishandled.”
Britt said Hania’s murder could have been avoided if the 2016 case had been handled differently.
Robeson County Sheriff Burnis Wilkins suspended two Robeson County Sheriff’s Office employees on December 21, according to a press release from the office. In January, another press release announced Major Anthony Thompson had resigned and retired after 34 years in law enforcement and Investigator Darryl McPhatter had been terminated.
The Robeson County DA’s office is not looking into any criminal charges against Thompson or McPhatter at this time. State law enforcement has not received any requests to conduct a criminal investigation into the matter either.
McLellan was charged for the rape in December and the case has already been moved up to superior court.