ALEXANDER COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - A man indicted along with his teen girlfriend in the killing of a woman and her two children in Alexander County is in the United States illegally, the sheriff said Wednesday.
Maria Calderon, 38, was killed before her body was dumped somewhere in the Catawba River, officials say. Calderon’s children, 11-year-old Angel E. Pacheco and 13-year-old America D. Pacheco, were found dead in their burning home.
Tuesday, 30-year-old Areli Aguiree-Avilez and his 16-year-old girlfriend, Heidi Darlene Wolfe, were each indicted on three counts of first-degree murder. They were later indicted for first-degree arson charges as well.
An ICE detainer was placed on Aguirre-Avilez, who the sheriff says in the U.S. illegally.
Aguirre-Alivez is being held without bond. Even if bond was granted, Aguirre-Avilez will not be set free, the sheriff says.
Aguirre-Avilez was also indicted one on count of violation of domestic violence order with a deadly weapon and one count of statutory rape of a child under 15. The statutory rape charge did not involve Calderon or her two children, officials say.
Investigators say the fire that started the investigation was intentionally set at a home on Pine Meadows Lane in Alexander County late at night on Saturday, June 15. The two children found dead inside the home were identified the following Tuesday. Their bodies had been badly burned.
Court documents, obtained by WBTV last Thursday, stated that Wolfe admitted to detectives that she went to the home with Avilez and that he shot and killed two people inside. When a female who Wolfe thought was a child ran out of the home, the documents state, Avilez told Wolfe to run her over. Wolfe says she did what she was told.
Investigators say the female was Calderon, not one of the children. She was killed on impact. The documents also state that Wolfe’s mother told authorities her daughter said Calderon’s body was dumped in the Catawba River.
“Avilez wrapped her up in a cover and they took her across Oxford Dam and dumped her body,” the documents state.
Crews began searching waters along Highway 16 in the Riverbend Park area near the Oxford Dam for a body connected to the case on Monday. It wasn’t until Tuesday they confirmed that body belonged to Calderon.
Last Wednesday, day four of the search for Calderon’s body, Sheriff Chris Bowman said his investigators were following every lead and are still talking with people and gathering evidence as they find it. He says the case against Avilez and Wolfe, in his opinion, is strong.
“We have made two arrests and there possibly could be more,” Bowman said, adding that any more arrests would be more in the nature of accessory after the fact and not murder itself. Investigators want to know if anyone helped Avilez or Wolfe after the incidents took place.
Both suspects appeared before a Judge in Alexander County on Friday. The two were brought to the courthouse under heavy security with the media kept back.
Before Tuesday’s conviction, Aguirre-Avilez was told he could face a maximum penalty of death. Wolfe, because of her age, was told her maximum penalty could be life without parole.
Authorities said they were seeking the whereabouts of two other people - Jose Carlos Mendez and Luis Fernando Sanchez. They are acquaintances of Calderon’s, officials said, and “are not considered suspects at this time in the investigation.”
At the home where it all happened, a makeshift memorial is growing every day. Items left behind by people across the community. At a nearby restaurant, Moses Badillo said everyone is hurting over what happened. “I cannot put into words the pain the whole community is suffering.”
Meanwhile, at the jail, Aguirre-Avilez had a special visitor. A man from the Mexican Consulate arrived to speak with him Tuesday. The visitor acknowledged that Avilez is a Mexican citizen but did not say anymore about the case.
Authorities say they suspected from the beginning that Aguirre-Avilez was in the U.S. illegally.
On Tuesday, an official from the Mexican Consulate went to the jail to talk with the suspect and confirmed he is a Mexican citizen but would not talk about his immigration status.
Just before 11, on Wednesday morning the Sheriff’s Office received the paperwork from Homeland Security that included a “Warrant for Arrest of Alien” that had Areli Aguirre-Avilez’s name on it.
Sheriff Bowman says even if the court allowed a bond in the murder cases and someone signed the bond, “We still will have to hold him for ICE.”
The murder indictments came even though the body of one of the victims has still not been found. Officials say it is rare but not unheard of to get an indictment for murder without a body.
All the indictments were served on the suspects in the jail late Tuesday afternoon. Avilez remains behind bars under what the sheriff called “two no-bonds.” Wolfe, meanwhile, saw her bond of $999,999 raised by $500,000.
Back at the Catawba River, authorities are urging any visitors who see anything suspicious to let the Sheriff’s office know. The search for Maria Calderon’s body will continue.