Friday, February 3, 2023

WPD: Missing Wilmington women’s car may be in Brunswick County

Above: Wilmington Police Department Captain Thomas Tilmon, head of the Criminal Investigation Division, discusses efforts to locate two Wilmington women missing since April 15. (Port City Daily video)

WILMINGTON — Wilmington police are searching for a missing couple last seen leaving their apartment fourteen days ago, and are trying to corroborate “tangible leads” that the vehicle they were leaving in — a 2013 grey Dodge Dart sedan — may be in Brunswick County.

The roommate of both missing women — Stephanie Mayorga, 27, and Paige Escalera, 25 — reported them missing four days after she had last seen them leave their Kerr Avenue apartment on the night of April 15.

Wilmington Police Captain Thomas Tilmon, who leads the Criminal Investigation Division, said the roommate was “under the misconception you couldn’t report a missing person until 72 hours had elapsed.”

RELATED: Police searching for two missing women last seen April 15

“It’s not unusual for persons in this age group to be spontaneous in their behavior … It wasn’t unusual that they had left without telling the roommate they were leaving, but it was unusual that they didn’t come back home. It was also unusual that they had left all their property in their home,” Tilmon said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon on the front steps of the WPD headquarters building.

In addition, neither woman has been in touch with family members, friends, or coworkers since their disappearance, according to the WPD.

Video footage was recovered showing the two women leaving the apartment, located at 376 N. Kerr Avenue, and heading north on Kerr in the Dodge Dart with a South Carolina license plate that reads MVS-902. Tilmon said their departure appeared to be normal.

He said the vehicle has unique identifying characteristics that the public should pay close attention to: stickers on the back window and damage to the driver’s side rear bumper.

Stephanie and Paige Escalera were last seen driving away from their Kerr Avenue apartment on April 15 in a grey 2013 Dodge Dart. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy WPD)

Detectives searched the apartment and, according to Tilmon, found nothing remarkable or anything suggesting foul play.

“And much of their property was still in the apartment, so it doesn’t look like they intended on leaving for a long period of time,” Tilmon said.

He said detectives have received assistance from nearby law enforcement agencies, including those at the local, state, and federal level, and have used a Sable helicopter to “search broad areas of interest” of where the missing Dodge Dart could be.

“The car could also be in Spartanburg, South Carolina,” Tilmon said, noting that Escalera had worked there previously. “We have no idea where they went. All the normal investigative techniques that we use to find where people have gone and find out their history and what their plans were, aren’t bearing out. This is unusual.”

Mayorga was wearing a black Nike sweatshirt with ‘Just Do It’ on the front, black leggings with white stripes down the front and back, and black Nike shoes. Escalera was seen wearing a grey zip-up sweatshirt with white pull strings, a white zipper, black leggings, and black tennis shoes with a white stripe on side. 

Shephanie Mayorga and Paige Escalera were last seen exiting their Kerr Avenue Apartment on the evening of April 15. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy WPD)

Mayorga had been selling various items on her Facebook page in late March, including a used drum set and at least three watches. Tilmon was asked if it was possible the couple could have left their apartment on the night of April 15 to meet a potential buyer.

“Anything is possible at this point, we’re not ruling anything out. But yes we are aware they were selling items,” Tilmon said.

He urged residents of the entire Cape Fear region, including New Hanover, Pender, Brunswick and Columbus counties, to be on the lookout for the Dodge Dart and to pay close attention to the photos of the women and the clothes they were wearing.

Tilmon said the WPD has “active information that we’re working right now on trying to corroborate” that the vehicle may be in Brunswick County.

With no signs of foul play discovered by detectives, Tilmon was asked why the WPD is bringing so much publicity to the case.

“Some of the information and evidence that we’ve uncovered in the course of the investigation is unusual enough to get us to raise an eyebrow. We would expect, if someone was okay, to see certain patterns of things going on, like contacting your family members. That’s not happening,” Tilmon said.

He said certain evidence has come to light — evidence he refrained from describing because it is an ongoing investigation — which “made it seem serious.”

“But even that’s not corroborated,” Tilmon said.

He was also asked why family members of the missing women hadn’t heard anything from the WPD until last Sunday, a full week after their roommate alerted police. He replied that the “normal bureaucratic process that takes place” when filing a report into the system may have been delayed by various work restrictions at the department due to the the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Life is not going on at the Wilmington Police Department as simply as it did before the pandemic,” Tilmon said. “We’re struggling just like everyone else. That doesn’t mean our officers and detectives aren’t out here working the cases, but the other bureaucrats who work within the police department are working under different conditions. And I’m not sure how that’s affecting how the reports process through the system, and whether that was part of the delay. I have no idea.”

Anyone with information that may be relevant to this case is urged to call (910) 343-3609 to speak with a detective, or use the Text a Tip program by texting 708 to the number 274637 (CRIMES). This can be done anonymously.

If anyone has seen the women at any time since April 15, detectives urge them to call 911 immediately.

“If any friends, family, or coworkers have any information on where they may have been traveling to on the night of April 15, 2020, we urge you to call (910) 343-3620 to speak to detective,” Tilmon said.

Stephanie Mayorga (left) and Paige Escalera. (Port City Daily/File)

Send tips and comments to the reporter at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com, @markdarrough on Twitter, or (970) 413-3815

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