The question of what happened to a missing North Carolina mother who vanished around the time that her two children were killed in a fire was answered this week after officials in Virginia confirmed that they’d found her remains.
The medical examiner’s office in Roanoke, Virginia informed the Alexander County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday, February 11, that they’d positively identified the remains of Maria Calderon Martinez, the office said in a news release. The remains of Martinez, who was first reported missing in June, were first located in a burned truck, along with two others, on November 4, but her identity had not been confirmed until now.
Martinez was unaccounted for after her two children, 11-year-old Angel Pacheco and 13-year-old America Pacheco, were found dead following a fire in the family’s Alexander County home, local outlet WBTV previously reported. The fire prompted a homicide investigation after officials found that the blaze had been set on purpose, and two people, 30-year-old Areli Aguiree-Avilez and 16-year-old Heidi Darlene Wolfe, were arrested and charged in connection to the case with three counts of murder, according to the outlet.
Martinez’s body was missing, but Wolfe told investigators that she went with Aguirre-Avilez to a private residence where he shot and killed two people, according to court documents obtained by WBTV. She also said that she saw someone run out of the house who she thought was a child; when Aguirre-Avilez then told her to run them over, she said that she obliged, and authorities say it was Martinez that she killed.
Also missing after the June 15 fire was Martinez’s boyfriend, Jose Carlos Mendez, and friend Luis Fernando Sanchez, according to the outlet.
The Alexander County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday that the other two bodies that were discovered alongside Martinez’s have not yet been positively identified, but they are working with the medical examiner’s office in order to confirm that the remains are that of Mendez and Sanchez.
Aguiree-Avilez and Wolfe, meanwhile, remain in custody at the Alexander County Detention Center, according to authorities.
Following the positive identification of Martinez’s remains, Sheriff Chris Bowman said that it will be up to a grand jury to decide if Aguiree-Avilez and Wolfe will face further charges, WBTV reports.
“We will be consulting with the District Attorney about it,” he said.
Aguiree-Avilez was Martinez’s ex-husband and Wolfe was his girlfriend, the Hickory Daily Record previously reported. During an earlier interview with authorities, Wolfe reportedly claimed that she and Aguiree-Avilez disposed of Martinez’s body in the Catawba River at Riverbend Park, according to the outlet.
However, despite rescue efforts involving helicopters and drones, the missing mother was not found until the discovery of the abandoned, burned car.
Speaking to reporters in July, Sheriff Bowman referred to the deadly fire at Martinez's home as a “mass murder,” one that had a profound effect on law enforcement and the community, according to WBTV.
“It’s taken a toll on everybody because of the way you know the two children were killed,” he said “It’s just unusual for something like that to happen in our county.”
Aguirre-Avalez had a criminal record, having previously been charged with one count of violating a domestic violence order with a deadly weapon and another count of statutory rape of a child under 15, according to WBTV.
Estevan Pacheco, father of the Pacheco siblings, told local outlet WSOC-TV that he’d been praying for answers.
“I was really close to my children and I miss them every day,” he said. “It’s been really hard.”
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