STEWARTSTOWN, N.H. (AP) — The FBI has deployed a child abduction team in the disappearance of an 11-year-old girl from her New Hampshire house just a mile from the Canadian border.
Celina Cass was last seen in her house around 9 p.m. Monday and was gone the next morning, authorities said. Police have said that there’s no indication she ran away or that someone took her, and there are no signs of a struggle.
Shannon Towles, who owns Towles Mini-Mart on Route 3, said the girl’s disappearance has shaken the town of 800.
“It’s creepy,” she said. “Things like this don’t happen here. I know that’s kind of a tired phrase. I’m an overprotective mom as it is. Now it’s going to be way worse.”
WBZ-TV’s Lauren Leamanczyk reports
Her stepfather, Wendell Noyes, described Celina as a quiet girl who would not have left home on her own. He declined to comment further, adding, “I’m not really at liberty to say anything.”
Towles said Celina is not the type to hitchhike or run away. “She’s just a little girl and she’s a nice little girl.”
State and federal law enforcement officials scoured the area within a half-mile of the family home Tuesday, and relatives, friends and neighbors held a vigil for her near the house that night.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Jane Young says the FBI has joined the case because it’s an investigation into a missing child. She says authorities are still desperately looking for the girl.
Celina’s disappearance did not meet the criteria for an Amber Alert and wasn’t yet considered suspicious, said state police Sgt. Sheldon Belanger, the lead on-scene investigator in West Stewartstown.
“Honestly, we don’t know where else we can look,” said Lt. Douglas Gralenski, a state Fish and Game official whose agency is helping state police search the river. “There’s so much that’s unknown.”
Fliers with the girl’s smiling face are posted on trees, utility poles and stores in the town.
Says Shannon Towles’ daughter, 13-year-old Echo Towles, who knows her: “I hope she’s OK. I hope they find her.”
Gralenski said Wednesday that a small boat with an officer and fishing guide was searching the river about a quarter-mile from her home. He said the river was lowered Tuesday to help with the search. The river runs between New Hampshire and Vermont, where state police also have helped with the search.
“It’s not a deep river. You’d be hard-pressed to find 6 to 8 feet in most of it in that area,” he said. “When we had it drawn down, it was exceptionally low.” That allowed the Border Patrol to search by helicopter and some officers to search the river by kayak before severe thunderstorms passed through Tuesday afternoon.
At the peak of the search Tuesday, Gralenski said, there were at least three dozen officers, New England police dog handlers, and a search and rescue group assisting by water, air, and land, including ATV trails in the woods.
“We found no evidence that she had been in that area and of course, we have no evidence she is lost as opposed to missing, either,” he said.
The area is densely wooded and there’s little to no cell phone reception.
In addition to the river search Wednesday, some officers were searching areas where some of the dog teams showed some interest, Gralenski said.
Towles said that in addition to her stepfather and sister, Celina lives with her mother, Louisa Noyes, who works part-time at a consignment shop in Colebrook. Her father is very ill and is hospitalized, she said.
Towles said her daughter asked her whether she thought Celina was still alive.
“How do I answer that question? And do I want to? I don’t want to think about it, but I pray every second that she is,” Towles said.
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