It’s been over a month since anyone has seen or heard from Maria Calderon Martinez, her boyfriend Juan Carlos Mendez-Pena and his friend Luis Fernando Sanchez.
“Every day that’s went by is more concern,” Alexander County Sheriff Chris Bowman said on Friday.
Martinez’s home on Pine Meadows Lane burned on June 15 and her two children – Angel Pacheco, 11, and America Pacheco, 12 – were found dead inside early the next morning. Teen suspect Heidi Wolfe told investigators that she and suspect Areli Aguirre-Avilez discarded Martinez’s body in the Catawba River at Riverbend Park.
Wolfe said she ran over and killed Martinez, who the Hickory Daily Record previously referred to as Calderon, outside her home, according to search warrants.
Rescue personnel searched the water between the Oxford and Lookout Shoals dams using drones, a helicopter, rafts and more for over a week, but Martinez’s body was never recovered. Bowman said the sheriff’s office hasn’t received any more information clarifying or contradicting Martinez’s suspected location.
Sheriff believes Pena and Sanchez could be dead
According to Bowman, investigators are thinking Pena and Sanchez could be dead, too.
“Right now, we don’t have physical evidence to show that,” Bowman said. “It’s a high probability that they are deceased because, again, at least every other day … both would report to their family in Mexico.”
Bowman said Pena and Sanchez’s families have not heard from them since June 15. Pena’s blue 2009 Chevrolet Silverado is also yet to be found.
“If we can find the truck, we’re hoping to find some evidence that might lead us to the whereabouts of the two individuals, and maybe her,” Bowman said.
The sheriff’s office is continuing to follow all leads related to the search that come into the office, including leads that took them to Ashe and Wilkes counties to search.
“Carlos (Pena) use to work over in Ashe County at a Christmas tree farm over there. That’s one reason that the leads has led us over there to interview and talk to some of his friends at this Christmas tree farm,” Bowman said.
Avilez, 30, and his 16-year-old girlfriend Wolfe are charged in the triple homicide of Martinez and the Pacheco siblings. According to previous reports, Avilez is Martinez’s ex-husband.
Avilez and Wolfe are also charged with first-degree arson in connection to Martinez’s burned home. According to warrants, there was a strong gasoline odor around the burned home after it was extinguished.
Wolfe told investigators that Avilez shot and killed the children in the house prior to the fire, warrants say. According to Angel Pacheco’s autopsy report, he was shot in the left side of his head. The Hickory Daily Record also requested America Pacheco’s autopsy, but the Record has not received the report.
The suspects appeared in court on June 21 on three counts each of first-degree murder. The first-degree arson charges were added when Avilez and Wolfe were indicted on June 25.
Avilez was additionally indicted on a count of statutory rape of a child 15 years old or younger that day.
On July 1, Assistant District Attorney Carrie Nitzu signed an application and intent notice to seek the death penalty against Avilez.
A note from the sheriff
“I would ask that the Hispanic community not be afraid to come forth and speak with law enforcement and give us any information that they may know or learn before we would get it, because I don’t want anybody to be afraid to walk in my office and figure something might happen to them.”