Guatemalan father of slain North Carolina teen denied visa to attend her funeral

When ...

Posted: Dec 9, 2018 9:47 AM
Updated: Dec 9, 2018 9:47 AM

When 13-year-old Hania Aguilar is laid to rest in North Carolina on Saturday her father will be nearly 3,000 miles away.

The US State Department has denied a temporary visa for Noé Aguilar to travel from Guatemala to attend services for his teenage daughter, according to the father's attorney.

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"I had hoped they would find it in their hearts to let me be there for my daughter's funeral," Aguilar told CNN in a brief phone interview Friday.

"It's very sad. She was my princess. She will always be my princess."

Immigration attorney Naimeh Salem said US embassy officials in Guatemala denied the temporary visa on grounds that Aguilar "didn't have enough ties to his home country, Guatemala."

"That is not true," she said. "He has family there and his own business."

NC governor asks US ambassador to reconsider

Hania's body was found last week in water off a rural road after she was abducted last month outside her home in Lumberton, North Carolina, police said.

Salem said her client has requested another visa interview but has not heard back from US embassy officials in Guatemala.

State Department spokeswoman Marlo Cross-Durant said 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," her statement said.

"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."

In a letter, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper asked the US ambassador in Guatemala to reconsider the visa application decision so Hania's family "can properly mourn their lost child in this tragic and extraordinary case."

"As you can imagine, the family is devastated by the loss of such a promising young lady who was loved (by) her family, friends and was one of the top students in her class," wrote Cooper.

Additionally, about 10,000 people have signed a petition in support of the father's visa request, according to CNN affiliate WSOC.

Father will stay home or take a long walk during funeral

Hania's grandfather and a maternal aunt received temporary visas to attend the funeral, according to Aguilar and Salem.

"This hurts," Aguilar said. "This is not a visa for sightseeing or staying in the country. I'm fine in my own country. I have work here. I only wanted a day or two to bury my daughter."

Aguilar said he last saw his daughter in 2005. He said they spoke on the phone and her mother talked to him about their daughter and sent photos. Salem said Aguilar had lived in US and moved back to Guatemala when Hania was an infant.

"She was very far away but she was always close in my heart and mind," Aguilar said.

Aguilar is not sure what he will do on Saturday at the time of the funeral.

"Maybe I'll get lost somewhere," he said. "I don't know how I will deal with it. I'll either stay home or take a long walk alone."

Hania, an eight-grader at Lumberton Junior High School, was abducted outside her home in rural Lumberton on the morning of November 5, authorities said. Her body was found last week in Robeson County, Lumberton police Chief Michael McNeill said.

Lumberton is in southeastern North Carolina, near Interstate 95, about 95 miles from Raleigh.

Man arrested and charged with 10 felonies

Police said she was kidnapped in a relative's SUV that was idling in the driveway on a morning before school. Authorities issued an Amber Alert at the time.

A witness saw a man dressed in black and wearing a yellow bandana force Hania into the vehicle. Police said they have no reason to think Hania knew her abductor, and her family is cooperating with the investigation.

The stolen SUV was found abandoned less than 10 miles from Hania's home at the Rosewood Mobile Home Park, authorities said.

Michael Ray McLellan, 34, was later arrested in the kidnapping and killing, said Shelley Lynch of the FBI Charlotte office.

McLellan went before a state magistrate at the Robeson County Detention Center early Saturday and is being held there with no bond. He has been charged with 10 felonies, including first degree murder and statutory rape of a person under age 15.

His first court appearance is expected Monday morning.

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