Crime & Courts

Crews search Catawba River for mom whose kids were found dead in a burning mobile home

Crews searched the Catawba River on Tuesday for the body of a woman whose children were found dead in a burning mobile home.

Alexander County sheriff’s investigators on Tuesday night identified the mom as 38-year-old Maria Calderon. They also named her 11-year-old son, Angel Pacheco, and her 12-year-old daughter, America Pacheco.

The children were identified during preliminary autopsies performed Tuesday at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, according to a sheriff’s office Facebook post. Their cause of death is pending, investigators said.

Maria Calderon remained missing Tuesday night and is presumed dead, according to the sheriff’s office post. Anyone with information on her whereabouts is urged to call investigators at 828-632-2911 or Crime Stoppers at 828-632-8555.

On Monday, sheriff’s investigators charged 16-year-old Heidi Darlene Wolfe of Wilkesboro and 30-year-old Areli Aguirre Avilez of Taylorsville with three counts each of first-degree murder, according to an earlier sheriff’s office Facebook post.

Avilez is the ex-husband of the woman whose body is believed to be in the river, Charlotte Observer news partner WBTV reported.

Authorities believe Calderon and her children died at the home on Pine Meadows Lane in Taylorsville before the fire, the Hickory Daily Record reported.

A 911 caller reported the fire at 11:30 p.m. Saturday, according to an initial Facebook post by the sheriff’s office.

“The bodies were in different rooms of the home,” investigators said in the post. “The victims were badly burned beyond recognition ....The fire is believed to be the result of arson.”

Crews are focusing their search for Calderon in the River Bend Park area of the Catawba River off N.C. 16, according to the sheriff’s office Facebook post.

Wolfe and Avilez were jailed without bail and have first court appearances scheduled for Monday in Alexander County District Court, according to the sheriff’s office post.

Authorities also are seeking information on the whereabouts of Jose Carlos Mendez and Luis Fernando Sanchez, described by sheriff’s investigators as acquaintances of Calderon. Neither is considered a suspect “at this time,” according to the sheriff’s office post Tuesday night.

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Joe Marusak has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1989 covering the people, municipalities and major news events of the region, and was a news bureau editor for the paper. He currently reports on breaking news.