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 Wednesday.
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 in late November face down under a folding plastic table that was also weighed down by a tire in a water-filled pit, about 12 miles (19 kilometers) from her home.
Hania disappeared Nov. 5 from a mobile home park when she went outside to start a relative’s SUV before school. Authorities believe Aguilar was forced into the SUV and driven away. The SUV was later found several miles away.
Scores of people joined an intensive search that garnered national attention.
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.
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.