WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Detectives with the Wilmington Police Department are continuing their efforts to track down two women who they say disappeared under suspicious circumstances.
Captain Thomas Tilmon, the head of the WPD’s Criminal Investigations Division, held a brief news conference Wednesday afternoon to provide new details into the disappearances of Stephanie Mayorga, 27, and Paige Escalera, 25, who have not been seen since April 15.
According to Tilmon, the WPD received a missing persons report on April 19 from the pair’s roommate who was under the impression she had to wait three days before she could file such a report.
Investigating officers didn’t find any signs of foul play inside their South Kerr Avenue apartment and much of their possessions remained inside, which, according to Tilmon, suggest they didn’t plan to stay gone long.
Investigators managed to track down surveillance video from a neighbor that showed the pair leave the apartment, get into a grey 2013 Dodge Dart, and head north on South Kerr Avenue.
“Their departure appeared to be entirely normal,” Tilmon added.
He admitted that though individuals at that age can be “spontaneous” and leave without telling anyone, the fact that they didn’t return home, left most of their belongings behind, haven’t recently contacted family members and police haven’t found them through normal investigative techniques make the situation “unusual.”
A close family friend of Mayorga says the two women were engaged to be married and had a lot to look forward to.
“They were in the process of getting a new apartment, they were engaged. They were trying to finish up education. Things were looking good,” said Dana Jarman. " They’re very loved, they’re very missed. If there’s anything to tell us...tell us if they’re okay. Anything. We just wanna know they’re okay."
Wilmington police have reached out to numerous law enforcement agencies and have brought in the SABLE helicopter in an effort to find them.
“Detectives in the Wilmington Police Department are taking every possible investigative step to develop any leads that arise in this case,” Tilmon said. “During the course of the investigation, which is still ongoing, detectives have spoken with family members and are in the process of collecting information from friends and coworkers of both missing women in an attempt to gather information of where they might have gone and where they went missing.”
Tilmon declined to elaborate on what information detectives discovered in the women’s phones, but did say most of the communications in the phones appeared to be normal.
Many raised questions about the timeline of the case during Wednesday’s press conference. The couple was last seen two weeks before the press briefing. Police explained that they received new information this week that made the situation more serious. While they couldn’t share what that information was, they also admitted work restrictions from COVID-19 may have also played a role in the case’s slow start.
“There’s a bureaucratic process that takes place; I don’t know how its affected by COVID-19 work restrictions. We’re all trying to work through this. Life is not going on at the Wilmington Police Department as simply as it did before the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re struggling like everyone else. That doesn’t mean our officers and detectives aren’t out working the cases, but the other bureaucrats that work within the police department are working under different conditions and I don’t know how that’s affecting how the reports process through system and whether or not that’s not part of the delay,” said Tilmon.
He urged everyone in the Wilmington metropolitan area, especially those in Brunswick County, to be on the lookout for the Dodge Dart. He added that Escalera previously worked in Spartanburg, S.C. and has connections to that area.
Investigators say the Dodge Dart has S.C. tags MVS-902 and has a dent on the bumper on the driver-side rear of the vehicle. The vehicle also has two stickers at the bottom corners of the back glass.
“It’s very important that we find them,” Tilmon said. “The investigation has been extensive, trying to figure out who they’re connected to and where they went. We’re working all those leads to try and find them and we’re really hoping this has a happy ending.”
Anyone with information is encouraged to contact the Wilmington Police Department at (910)-343-3620.