Autopsy: Asphyxia Was Likely Cause of Kidnapped Girl’s Death

February 14, 2019 Updated: February 14, 2019

RALEIGH, N.C.—A kidnapped and slain 13-year-old North Carolina girl likely died of suffocation or strangulation, but her cause of death couldn’t be determined conclusively, according to an autopsy released on Wednesday, Feb. 13.

The state’s Office of the Chief Medical examiner ruled that Hania Aguilar died of undetermined violence. The autopsy found she most likely died of asphyxia because other causes of death were ruled out.

Officials examined evidence that she was abducted and sexually assaulted before her body was concealed under water. The autopsy found evidence of sexual assault.

“Due in part to limitations imposed by decomposition, the autopsy did not elucidate a specific mechanism of death,” the autopsy report said. “However, the totality of the circumstances and findings … indicate death by homicidal violence.”

The medical examiner’s report said that her unclothed body was found on Nov. 27, face down under a folding plastic table that was also weighed down by a tire in a water-filled pit, about 12 miles from her home.

Parents of Hania Aguilar
Celsa Maribel Hernandez Velasquez, mother of Hania Aguilar, stares at Michael Ray McLellan during his first court appearance in Lumberton, N.C., on Dec. 10, 2018. (Andrew Craft/The Fayetteville Observer via AP)

Hania was snatched from the front yard of her Lumberton mobile home on Nov. 5 after she went outside to wait for other relatives to come outside and take her to school.

According to investigators, Michael Ray McLellan, 34, of Fairmount, allegedly forced the girl into the family’s green SUV, which the teen had started, and fled from the area. The vehicle was found within a few days, but Hania’s body wasn’t located until Nov. 27.

Federal and local law enforcement authorities mounted a massive search for the girl and pleaded with the public to come forward with tips or information that could lead to an arrest.

Hania Aguilar kidnapped
This image released by the FBI shows a missing person poster for Hania Aguilar. Aguilar was kidnapped from a mobile home park after going outside to start a relative’s SUV before school in Robeson County, N.C., on Nov. 5, 2018. (FBI via AP)

After the family’s SUV was found, authorities have said the vehicle offered the first clues to connect McLellan, 34, of Fairmont, to the crime.

McLellan’s DNA was apparently submitted to the federal database after he was convicted in 2007 of a felony assault with a deadly weapon and first-degree burglary.

Michael Ray McLellan faces rape, murder and other charges in Hania’s death. The public defender’s office didn’t immediately respond to an email asking if one of its lawyers was representing McLellan and could comment.

Kidnapper Michael ray McLellan 5
This undated file photo provided by Robeson County Sheriff’s Office shows Michael Ray McLellan, who faces first-degree murder and other charges in the death of 13-year-old Hania Aguilar. (Robeson County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

The handling of evidence in a related case prompted an internal sheriff’s office probe and the departure of two investigators.

Former Robeson County District Attorney Johnson Britt has said that before Aguilar’s disappearance, DNA evidence linked McLellan to a 2016 rape. Britt said a DNA match from that rape was given to the sheriff’s office, but deputies apparently didn’t follow up before Aguilar was killed.

The sheriff’s office announced in January that one investigator was fired and another had resigned after both were suspended due to the internal investigation.

By Jonathan Drew


The number of reported missing children significantly decreased in recent years, according to a report (pdf) by the Department of Justice in 2017.

Missing children typically fall into five categories: kidnapped by a family member, abducted by a nonfamily perpetrator, runaways, those who got lost, stranded, or injured, or those who went missing due to benign reasons, such as misunderstandings, according to the report researchers.

Department of Justice researchers said in a separate report (pdf) published in 2016 that there were an estimated 105 children nationwide that were victims of stereotypical kidnappings, a number that was virtually the same as 1997.

“Most kidnappings involved the use of force or threats, and about three in five victims were sexually assaulted, abused, or exploited, the researchers said.

Stereotypical kidnappings are defined as abductions in which a slight acquaintance or stranger moves a child at least 20 feet or holds the child at least 1 hour. Most victims were girls aged 12 to 17 and most perpetrators were men aged 18 to 35.