N.C. children found dead in burned home identified, mother’s body believed to be in Catawba River

N.C. children found dead in burned home identified, mother’s body believed to be in Catawba River

ALEXANDER COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - Two children found dead inside a burning home in Alexander County were identified Tuesday as 11-year-old Angel E. Pacheco and his 13-year-old sister America D. Pacheco.

The children’s mother, 38-year-old Maria Calderon, is still missing, but officials believe she is deceased and her body may be in the Catawba River.

Investigators say the fire was intentionally set at a home on Pine Meadows Lane in Alexander County late Saturday night. Crews arrived at the scene shortly after and worked to extinguish the flames, but the reported use of an accelerant allowed the fire to spread before it was eventually contained.

On Monday, police said 30-year-old Areli Aguiree Avilez and 16-year-old Heidi Darlene Wolfe were each charged with three counts of murder in connection to the case. Investigators have not released any more details about the pair’s arrest, but confirmed they are being held without bond.

30-year-old Areli Aguiree Avilez (left) and 16-year-old Heidi Darlene Wolfe (right) are each charged with three counts of murder in connection with an Alexander County arson case. (Alexander County Sheriff's Office)
30-year-old Areli Aguiree Avilez (left) and 16-year-old Heidi Darlene Wolfe (right) are each charged with three counts of murder in connection with an Alexander County arson case. (Alexander County Sheriff's Office)

Tuesday evening, authorities said there 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.”

While investigators looked into the source of the fire and who was responsible, they were also trying to positively identify the two bodies in the home so they could determine who the missing third person was.

Investigators originally believed the bodies belonged to Calderon and one of the children, but they were unable to confirm the identities because the bodies were so badly burned. On Tuesday, officials confirmed the bodies belonged to the 11 and 13-year-old siblings.

Alexander County Sheriff Chris Bowman said on Tuesday that investigators believe the children and their mother were all killed at the home, but a cause of death has not yet been determined.

On Monday, crews began searching waters along Highway 16 in the Riverbend Park area near the Oxford Dam for a body connected to the case. It wasn’t until Tuesday they confirmed that body belonged to Calderon.

Investigators would not disclose what information led them to search that particular spot.

“Anytime there is a fatality, anywhere... especially in a fire, especially being children... it’s harder,” said Bowman. “It’s just harder to accept.”

The initial person of interest was Avilez, who investigators said was Calderon’s ex-boyfriend. Avilez had recently had a domestic violence order taken out against him for threatening to set fire to Calderon’s, home. Hours after he was found walking along a nearby road and taken into custody on Sunday, he was released by the Alexander County Sheriff’s Office with no charges filed - until he was arrested on the murder charges Monday.

Officials said on Monday that Avilez was called to come to the Sheriff’s Office again for a talk. When he showed up, he was arrested. The vehicle he came in was seized and searched by investigators. Authorities are still awaiting word from Homeland Security officials as to his immigration status.

In the court papers for the domestic violence order, the woman claims that Avilez had assaulted her and “Threatened to burn her house down.” That order expired on Sunday, hours after the fire and the bodies were discovered.

“For something to happen like this it’s uncalled for that you have to do bodily harm to another individual because of either jealousy or you can’t get along is unacceptable,” said Bowman.

Despite not having Calderon’s body, warrants for three counts of murder were served on Avilez and Wolfe on Monday. When asked if he thought they had a strong enough case, even without the third body, Bowman said, “Yes, I do.”

Meanwhile, friends of the victims spoke out on Tuesday.

Reuben Cobos coached both children in soccer and said he knew their mom as well. The entire community is feeling the loss, he said, himself included.

“She was beautiful, the kids were beautiful,” Cobos said.

He added that Calderon was scared at times because of issues with Avilez.

“They had many problems before,” he said. “I am broken.”

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