HAMPSTEAD — Nearly three months have passed since Hannah Faith’s decomposed body was found in an abandoned trailer in north Hampstead, but her mother is still waiting for answers.
According to Monica Faith, Hannah’s mother, the Pender County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) has told her there are no leads in the ongoing investigation while it awaits autopsy results. A spokesperson with the state’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) said in a Thursday email, “The case is not complete.”
Monica has many questions surrounding her daughter’s death. Because her 18-year-old daughter had struggled with drug issues and frequently moved around the region, sleeping at friends’ homes, she is seeking any information regarding Hannah’s possible movements in the days surrounding her March 18 disappearance. She said she is offering a reward after receiving no guidance from the Pender County Sheriff’s deputy assigned to her case: $200 for information that advances the case, $1,000 for information that solves it.
“I will pay and do whatever it takes to get answers,” she said. “Like who saw her that day?”
She also said that people who had reached out to her told her that Hannah was frequently traveling to Franklinton, where Monica lives, and Raleigh. According to Monica, her daughter also spent time in Charlotte.
Text messages between ex-boyfriend and grandmother
Monica Faith’s most concerning questions involve text messages between Hannah’s boyfriend and her own mother, Carolyn Faith, who had talked regularly with her daughter. Carolyn’s last phone communication with her granddaughter was on March 18. Days before, Hannah told Carolyn she was planning to break off her relationship with Micah Me’Nace Howard because they had been fighting, according to Monica.
Howard is now an inmate in the New Hanover County Detention Facility due to unrelated charges. On April 19, he was arrested for armed robbery near the UNCW campus in Wilmington.
Text messages between Carolyn and Howard are revealing. They show Carolyn’s increasing concern for her granddaughter’s well-being — “This has never happened before. I think she is dead,” she texted on Friday, March 20, a week before her body was found. And they show inconsistent responses from Howard, with often delayed replies and wavering between attitudes of concern and indifference.
According to Monica, she was told that Howard was cleared of any possible wrongdoing. A PCSO spokesperson declined to answer whether Howard was considered a suspect, citing the ongoing nature of the investigation.
Most alarming to Monica is the first text message Howard sent to Carolyn on Thursday, March 19 — a day after Carolyn last spoke with Hannah.
“Hannah told me to tell you thru text her phone is dead, she okay but she’s not with me [at the moment] but she ight,” Howard texted.
When Carolyn sent the message the next day, Friday, March 20, saying that she believed her granddaughter was dead, Howard replied, “Do I have to ride around and try to find her??”
Later that evening, Carolyn’s suspicions of Howard are apparent: “Hannah is with you!” she texted at 8:14 p.m.
“No,” he responded.
“Why did she ask you to text me. And not do it herself,” Carolyn asked.
“Idk [I don’t know],” he replied.
When she asked who’s phone Hannah had texted from the day before, Howard responded: “Yeah she texted me off her phone.”
“You said her phone was dead,” Carolyn replied.
“Yuh, yesterday,” he said, not appearing to directly answer her question.
Read the text messages between Carolyn Faith and Micah Howard below. Click on an image to enlarge and scroll through the gallery:
On Sunday, March 20, Howard was pulled over by Surf City Police (SCPD) while he was driving Hannah’s car, alone, three days after Hannah’s last phone call with her grandmother. According to SCPD Chief Ron Shanahan, Howard was pulled over for a lane violation and impeding traffic on Highway 17, and was issued a verbal warning for those violations.
“Also, Hannah Faith was not in the vehicle at the time of the stop,” Shanahan said in a Wednesday email. (On March 26, hours before PCSO announced that Hannah’s body was found, he said he was unable to answer this same question, citing an ongoing investigation in collaboration with the PCSO.)
According to PCSO spokesperson Captain James Rowell, in normal times the officer would have asked for the driver’s identification. But the verbal warning may have been issued due to Covid-19 restrictions enacted by the governor two days before on March 17.
“[W]ith all the social distancing and everything going on, it’s possible they might’ve walked up and said, ‘Hey try not to do that again, be safe, and carry on.'”
Body found in decomposed state
On Friday, March 26, Hannah’s body was found in an abandoned trailer about a half-mile southeast of Highway 17 in north Hampstead, surrounded by thick trees near a tidal marsh of Old Topsail Creek. Although the PCSO would not reveal details of her condition, Monica said she was told her daughter was found that Friday evening — six days after Carolyn last heard from Howard — with a gunshot wound.
Monica said she was told by the PCSO that her body “was pretty badly decomposed” when she was discovered.
“From what I was told, she was so bad that they couldn’t take her to New Hanover, who said they didn’t have the equipment. So they took her to Greenville,” Monica said.
Although it is impossible to determine Hannah’s time and day of death without the autopsy report — and the rate of decomposition is influenced by a number of factors, including temperature, moisture, age of the victim, and the number of insects present — Dr. Stephanie Dillon of the Florida State Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry outlined the first two phases of putrefaction (the predominant cause of tissue degradation) as follows:
- Putrefaction occurs 4-10 days after death; gases (odor) and discoloration of skin begins.
- Black putrefaction occurs 10-20 days after death; exposed skin turns black.
Dillon notes that although the degree of putrefaction allows investigators to roughly estimate the time of death, the broad ranges of time for each phase emphasizes that it is not an exact science.
Warmer temperatures increase the rate of decomposition while colder temperatures decrease it. According to a thesis by Angela Dautartas while she was a graduate student at the University of Tennessee (she is now a biological anthropologist who specializes in forensic science), cold temperature “acts as a preservation agent for the [body] tissue, and the climate often also discourages both insect and scavenger activity.”
According to historical weather data collected at the nearest National Weather Service monitoring station in Wilmington, the average temperature in the five days leading up to her body’s discovery equaled 58 degrees Fahrenheit.
Was it suicide? Why no suspect?
Monica Faith had many questions after she was told, shortly after her daughter’s body was discovered, that Howard was not considered a suspect.
Monica asked, “Why did Micah reach out to Hannah’s grandmother and say he was with Hannah and that she was fine, twice, days after she passed away? Why was he driving her car? Why didn’t he answer the police when they called him to ask where Hannah was? … Why did it take his aunt to contact the police for Micah to finally talk to the police?”
According to Monica, Howard’s aunt saw the news of Hannah’s disappearance around 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 26. (A missing persons report had been filed on Tuesday, March 24.) She said PCSO investigators had called Howard several times on Saturday, March 21 — the day before he was pulled over driving Hannah’s car — but he didn’t answer.
Although there has been speculation that the wound was self-inflicted, Monica believes her daughter was not suicidal.
“People who’ve reached out to me said she hadn’t once talked about killing herself,” she said.
On March 15, three days before she last made contact with her grandmother, Hannah wrote in a weekly calendar a reminder to buy her sister a present for her birthday, which was March 24, according to Monica.
On the same day, she also wrote ‘Pack,’ Monica said — days before she told her grandmother that she planned to break things off with Howard.
“I know she’s not innocent by any means. I know that she had ties in [drugs], and I knew that eventually it would catch up with her, and be part of the cause … But I would be at peace knowing what happened. I just want to know what the truth is,” she said.
According to LaQueona Harvey, who said she was a friend of Hannah, she did not believe her friend’s death was suicidal.
“[G]od forgive me if she did and I’m pointing the finger, but that’s just something I know she wouldn’t do,” LaQueona said.