ROBESON COUNTY, N.C. -- Outgoing Robeson County District Attorney Johnson Britt is now admitting that Hania Aguilar's kidnapping and murder could have been prevented.
Britt confirmed Wednesday that the Robeson County Sheriff's Office had DNA evidence linking Hania's accused killer Michael McLellan to a 2016 rape but the sheriff's office never followed up.
TIMELINE: Body believed to be Lumberton teen Hania Aguilar found
"I don't know what happened, if it got lost in the sheriff's department, if it got buried on someone's desk," he said. "If it got placed in records. It just vanished."
After the 2016 rape, the rape kit was sent off for testing.
In 2017, COTIS -- a federal DNA matching system -- named McLellan as a possible match and immediately notified the sheriff's office.
RELATED: Michael McLellan linked to unsolved 2016 rape case during investigation into kidnapping, murder of Hania Aguilar
"What should've happened is that when they received the COTIS hit, that would've given them probable cause to get a search warrant to obtain a known DNA sample from McLellan," Britt said.
McLellan, who was in prison at the time for larceny and burglary charges, would've likely stayed there if convicted.
"In all likelihood had this gone forward and we established a case against him at that time, Hania would not have died," Britt said. "And for that, I can't tell you how much that hurts. How sorry I am."
McLellan was charged on Saturday with kidnapping, raping, and murdering the 13-year-old, who was taken from her front yard on Nov. 5 while she was waiting to go to school.
RELATED: Arrest made in kidnapping and murder of 13-year-old Hania Noelia Aguilar
Investigators said DNA was crucial to making an arrest in Hania's case; officials were able to match DNA samples from a stolen SUV, which was found roughly 10 minutes from where Hania's body was found, to McLellan.
Once arrested in Hania's case, McLellan was also charged in the 2016 rape case.
McLellan is being held on no bond.
Overlooked DNA evidence in 2016 rape case may have landed Michael McLellan behind bars before Hania Aguilar's murder, DA says