Suspect arrested in kidnapping and killing of 13-year-old Hania Noelia Aguilar, devastated town mourns
FOTOKITA/iStock(NEW YORK) — A sea of purple filled a school gymnasium in Lumberton, North Carolina, on Saturday afternoon — purple flowers, purple ribbons, purple balloons, people wearing purple shirts and dresses.Purple was Hania Noelia Aguilar’s favorite color.An emotional, hours-long funeral service was held at Lumberton High School in honor of the 13-year-old girl, who was kidnapped outside her family’s home in Lumberton just before dawn on Nov. 5. Three weeks later, her body was found in a lake some 10 miles away.The FBI and the Lumberton Police Department announced Saturday morning that they had arrested Michael Ray McLellan, 34, in connection with the case.Friends and family took turns coming up to the podium during Saturday’s service to read letters and poems they had wrote for Hania.She was described as a bright, happy 8th grader who was a good student and a loving daughter, big sister and friend. Born in Fort Payne, Alabama, on March 21, 2005, Hania loved to draw and listen to music, had dreams of becoming an architect, played soccer and the viola.“Whoever took my daughter — he took my daughter’s life, not her happiness,” Hania’s mother, Celsa Hernandez, said through a translator in Spanish, as tears rolled down her cheeks. She, too, wore purple for her beloved daughter.Hania’s biological father, Noe Aguilar, who lives in Guatemala, was denied a temporary visa by the U.S. Department of State to attend her funeral, according to his attorney, Naimeh Salem. He traveled thousands of miles to the U.S. southern border to request a humanitarian parole from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Saturday morning, but was denied that too, Salem told ABC News.Humanitarian parole allows someone who is otherwise inadmissible to the United States for a temporary period of time for a “compelling emergency,” according to the DHS website.A heartbreaking letter he wrote to her in Spanish was read on his behalf at the funeral Saturday afternoon.“My gorgeous little girl,” his letter read, in part. “It hurts my soul because I cannot be with you. But I will always keep you in my heart.”An official with the U.S. Department of State told ABC News that details of individual visa cases are confidential.“All visa applications are adjudicated on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the requirements of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and other applicable laws,” the official said in an emailed statement Saturday.“The Department of State makes every effort to facilitate legitimate travel by international visitors. We are also fully committed to administering U.S. immigration law and ensuring the integrity and security of our country’s borders.”A representative for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment Saturday.One of Hania’s best friends, Jeidy Diaz Perez, read a letter at the funeral that she had written to Hania.“When I found out what happened to you that morning, I didn’t want to believe it,” she said. “I prayed for you to come back that same day but you didn’t. That night they found a body, I hoped that it wasn’t you. But when that it was confirmed that it was you, I felt my heart breaking into pieces.”Another one of Hania’s best friends, Bridgette Tellez, also read a letter. “It hurts not hearing your voice or your laughs,” she said. “We now know that you are in a safe place where nobody can hurt you.”Yet another best friend, Jayden Chavis, shared an original song she wrote after Hania’s death.“I want you back,” she sang during the chorus. “At least I know that you have peace.”School administrators, teachers and local officials were also in attendance, sharing words of condolences and encouragement.SaVon Maultsby, the principal of Lumberton Junior High School, said she is “shocked, scared, angered and saddened” by Hania’s death, but that every day she is reminded of how many lives Hania has touched.“Her loving smile, her kind acts, her encouraging words, her funny conversations, her dreams and aspirations will always be a part of Lumberton Junior High,” Maultsby said. “Hania has taught us to cherish the moments.”Shanita Wooten, superintendent for the Public Schools of Robeson County, said Hania’s impact was evident in the teachers and school administrators who “talked endlessly about her amazing personality.”“She was amazing and truly is one of the brightest lights in the public schools of Robeson County,” Wooten said.Robeson County Sheriff Burnis Wilkins said he has seen “purple everywhere” throughout the county in memory of Hania.“In her tragic death she has accomplished something so many of those haven’t been able to do,” Wilkins said. “She has brought our community together as one people of all races and backgrounds. People who didn’t know Hania and people who did have come together like never before to share this great loss and help this family.”Lumberton Mayor Pro Tem John Cantey declared Saturday as “Hania Noelia Aguilar Day.”Hania’s mother, who was the last to speak, was visibly overcome by grief at times but pressed on, expressing her gratitude for the community’s support and sharing how proud she is of her daughter.“I want to play this song for her because this is our song,” she said, and then Hania’s favorite song, “A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri, began to play.After the service, a mariachi band performed as Hania’s white casket was loaded onto a horse-drawn carriage and taken to Meadowbrook Cemetery in Lumberton where she will be buried.Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.