What happened? Lumberton reacts to McLellan rape kit flub

    Michael McLellan wore a bulletproof vest at his first court appearance since charges were filed in Hania Aguilar's kidnapping and murder. Dec. 10, 2018. (Credit: Native Vision Magazine)

    Experts say there are more than 15,000 untested rape kits in North Carolina, a problem which investigators say is to blame for 13-year-old Hania Aguilar's death last month.

    A Robeson County prosecutor says someone dropped the ball in linking a 2016 rape case to Michael McLellan, 34, who is charged in Hania's kidnapping and murder.

    In 2016, investigators say a rape kit was sent off for testing, and in 2017, a federal DNA system named McLellan as a possible match in that case. Police, however, never collected McLellan's DNA to confirm, according to investigators.

    It's a nationwide problem, according to experts, who believe we're now seeing the worst possible outcome of it.

    Still reeling from the loss of Hania Aguilar, Lumberton residents are now finding out the man police believe took her life could have been behind bars already.

    "These people who've gone through a traumatic event, it's just not being taken seriously," said Mackenzie Clementson.

    Clementson, a program coordinator with the Pee Dee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Assault in Florence, works with victims everyday. She encourages those who have been victimized to go to a hospital and get checked out.

    "It's forensic evidence," she explained. "It can help with a case if a case does get taken further later."

    What happens to a rape kit after the victim is examined?

    "Law enforcement then picks up the kit and does testing on it," Clementson said.

    The Robeson County District Attorney said Wednesday, though, that this is not what happened in Michael McLellan's case.

    Kenny Pope, who lives in Lumberton near where Hania was kidnapped, said he has an 11-year-old daughter, and the whole thing makes him afraid of the police.

    "I hope that this will open up some eyes in Robeson County," Pope said. "They should be looking for these missing people and not letting DNA fall through the cracks."

    In many states, including North and South Carolina, untested rape kits-- potential evidence in countless cases-- that are sent to crime labs end up collecting dust instead.

    "In South Carolina, there are more than 800 kits waiting for testing," explained Clementson.

    That's not good news for mothers like Sherry Williams, who said her daughter has been missing in Robeson County for more than three months.

    "I'm thankful they got him," she said tearfully. "I just pray they find my child before it happens to her, too."

    Clementson said it's a huge problem with only one solution.

    "We're going to have to keep going after reform," she said. "Otherwise, we are just sitting here spinning our wheels."

    Justice delayed is justice denied for the Aguilar family and the Robeson County community left wondering how this could have happened.

    In North Carolina, there are more than 15,000 untested kits. State records show Governor Roy Cooper recently signed a bill into law that will require untested kits to be tested. The state was also awarded $2 million to help get that done and find the suspects.

    Neighboring South Carolina has a much lesser backlog at 813. However, it is not clear how many kits have been tested, because state law does not require police to keep track of that number.

    A bill proposed in the Palmetto State to cut down on that number never passed.

    To learn more about what other states are doing and what you can do to help, visit http://www.endthebacklog.org.

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