By John Curran, Associated Press


STEWARTSTOWN, N.H. (AP) — Shy and sweet, with a gap-toothed smile and a reputation as reliable, 11-year-old Celina Cass is the last person anyone in her New Hampshire community would expect to run away. At this point, they only wish that were the case. The other explanations are too scary.

Last seen at a home computer Monday night, the fifth grader vanished overnight from her home a mile from the U.S.-Canada border, leaving family members and friends incredulous. Police and conservation officers are searching fields, woods and the Connecticut River while FBI child abduction specialists have joined the hunt.

WBZ-TV’s Lauren Leamanczyk reports.

Police have said that there’s no indication she ran away or that someone took her, and there are no signs of a struggle.

But tight-lipped police investigators revealed little about the probe beyond that Wednesday, despite a flurry of activity in and around the three-story house where Celina lives with her mother and stepfather. Senior Assistant Attorney General Jane Young said it is still being treated as a missing persons case.

“We are still desperately looking for her,” Young said.

She wouldn’t comment when asked why an Amber Alert was never issued for the girl, even though the FBI said it had enlisted a four- to six-person “child abduction rapid deployment team” to pitch in. Earlier in the day, state police Sgt. Sheldon Belanger, the lead investigator in the case, said Celina’s disappearance did not meet the criteria for an Amber Alert and wasn’t considered suspicious.

Police were going through phone and computer records at Celina’s home, he said.

Those who know Celina say it’s unlikely she ran away.

“She never went anywhere without her mom or sister,” said family friend Rebecca Goodrum, 30, fighting back tears and holding a lit candle Wednesday night at a vigil held in a park in neighboring Canaan, Vt., about a half-mile from the girl’s home.

“She is very shy,” said Kayla Baglio, 18, who knows her, too. “If she doesn’t know you, she’d look at her sister to see if it was OK to talk to you.”

Celina’s friend, 11-year-old Makayla Riendeau, described the girl as very athletic and a stickler about getting her school work done on time.

“She’s a very good friend, and she never lets anybody down,” Makayla said.

Vermont State Police, the U.S. Border Patrol, New Hampshire State Police, the state Department of Fish and Game and local law enforcement agencies searched for the girl Tuesday and Wednesday, at one point resorting to lowering the water — via dam release — in the Connecticut River so a helicopter could search from above.

Nothing.

At the peak of the search Tuesday, 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 all-terrain vehicle 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,” said Lt. Douglas Gralenski, a state Fish and Game official.

“Honestly, we don’t know where else we can look,” he said. “There’s so much that’s unknown.”

At midday Wednesday, about a mile north of town, five Fish and Game officers searched the woods behind an apartment building. They carried bags and boxes, but it was unclear if they collected anything.

Some of the police activity was closer to home. Police were seen entering the home and then stretching yellow crime scene tape around it late Wednesday afternoon before posting a uniformed trooper outside.

After that, plainclothes police officers wearing purple rubber gloves surrounded a red pickup that was parked across the street from the girl’s home, photographing it and looking inside. When news cameras began shooting pictures of what was happening, troopers moved a cruiser and a New Hampshire State Police SUV in front of the scene, to block the cameras.

The girl’s disappearance hung heavy over Stewartstown, a community of 800 residents with one blinking streetlight and a handful of stores. Friends posted fliers of the girl on trees, utility poles, storefronts and car windows, and stood along the street in front of her house, waving motorists down to hand them copies.

“It’s creepy,” said Shannon Towle, who owns Towle’s Mini-Mart on Route 3. “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.”

After sunset, about 80 people — many with candles in hand and tears in their eyes — gathered for the nighttime vigil. A framed picture of the girl sat on a picnic table, surrounded by candles. Friends, classmates and even people who didn’t know Celina were among those in the crowd, and young children sobbed as adults comforted them.

Goodrum, of nearby Beecher Falls, Vt., said she was praying that Celina, whom she’s known since she was 2, is safe.

“She was beautiful,” said Goodrum. “She was the light of everything.”

Towle said her 13-year-old daughter, Echo Towle, asked her mother whether she thought Celina was still alive.

“How do I answer that question? And do I want to?” Towle said. “I don’t want to think about it, but I pray every second that she is.”

——

Associated Press writers Kathy McCormack and Lynne Tuohy in Concord, N.H., contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Comments (14)
  1. NH native says:

    Stewartstown is more than a mile from the Canadian border WBZ. The entire town of Pittsburgh NH is between Stewartstown and the Canadian border. Anyone who has been up there knows it is several miles from the lower end of Pittsburgh, and the border.

    1. real native says:

      Less then a mile in through Beecher falls or cannan. I will send you maps if need be. Bottom line is an 11 year old girl is missing. No one cares about actual driving millage mcnally

  2. BethaneeJane says:

    I’ve been up there, stayed in Colebrook one summer. I know how rural it is, however I don’t think this is a stranger abduction. This kid’s step father was on his computer trying to talk to a buxom woman at 9 AM on the morning she supposedly disappeared. Why? If you look at HIS facebook page, he friend-ed all kinds of women in the sex industry, (that’s what they look like to me) BUT NONE of them would talk to him on his wall. At one point he says he is “cleaning up his friend list” and “does anyone want to talk to me?” The ONLY friends he has on his page are these women and they look like cartoon renditions of call girls. I repeat NO ONE posted on this guys page. another funny thing is that he was not “FRIENDS” with Celina or his wife. hm here is the link….I bet he had something to do with this. he is a creep here is the link to his page
    http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001375909710&sk=wall

    1. CC from MI says:

      Wow–good find Bethanee. All of his Facebook “interests” appear to involve singles sites/sex trade. Plus his arrest in 2003 for home invasion and threatening an ex-girlfriend, for which he was involuntarily committed as a paranoid schizophrenic. Very scary. As other news reort have stated, he has a “checkered past.”

      1. CC from MI says:

        oops reports

  3. knows better says:

    …not to mention that his brother and uncle and convicted sex offenders…
    Mothers, better to stay single than to settle on some creep so you don’t have to be alone. Parents, keep your little kids off of facebook.

  4. BethaneeJane says:

    Hope the FBI is on this guy, I mean, I’d hate to think they don’t suspect him

  5. jaygee says:

    Since the beginning, authorities have stated that they don’t believe she was abducted or ran away. The area where they live and those I have seen appear to be straight out of” Deliverance”. The young girl appears never to have seen a dentist. The mother’s head was covered by a blanket on the first day and some of the facts stated above about the family makes it pretty clear that the police have a good idea just who is responsible and that would be…..someone close.

  6. Paul Devine says:

    KINER: We all pray to God that she will be found soon and unharmed…As the father of five grown children,I can fully appreciate what must be going on in the minds of these parents of this girl..

  7. njuguna muigai says:

    let see the fbi and police rule out abduction.this is because no sign of struggle, the girl was in bedroom reading computer but next morning she had dissapeared . my question is there anyone who called her through her cellphone? Police with the mobile service providers can track any call were made during that night. we pray for the family and for safety of the girl