LUMBERTON, N.C. (AP) — A body found in North Carolina has been preliminarily identified as a 13-year-old girl kidnapped outside her home, investigators said Wednesday, ending a three-week search involving hundreds of investigators.
Lumberton Police Chief Michael McNeill told reporters at a news conference that state crime lab tests indicate the body found late Tuesday is Hania Aguilar. While a final determination will be made with dental records, investigators believe the body is hers.
‘‘This is the outcome that we all feared,’’ he said. ‘‘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.’’
He pledged to bring whoever is responsible to justice. Investigators said they don’t currently have a suspect or person of interest.
The chief said Hania’s body was found in a body of water in Robeson County about 10 miles (16 kilometers) 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 say 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 bandanna grab Hania in the Rosewood Mobile Home Park in Lumberton. Police say 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.
Drones, dogs and scores of searchers on foot spent the following weeks combing the county about 100 miles (161 km) south of Raleigh.
A $30,000 reward remains in place for information related to the kidnapping, the FBI said.