Saturday, July 19, 2014
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — An 11-year-old girl whose disappearance prompted a massive search before her body was found against a dam in the Connecticut River remains a haunting presence in her small rural town.
Celina Cass was last seen hunched over a computer in her family's apartment in West Stewartstown on July 25, 2011. Three years later, no one has been charged with her death, which investigators have called a homicide.
As of the weekend, there were no public memorial services planned to commemorate the third anniversary of Celina's death, and resident Shannon Towle hopes it stays that way. The previous anniversaries have attracted hordes of media, she said, and only served to unnerve children still struggling to cope with the security of their town being shattered.
"The kids who were her close friends are still dealing with this," said Towle, whose family owns the gas station and convenience store across from Celina's apartment in northern New Hampshire. She said news of an arrest would be cause for celebration.
"Without that, it just kind of rubs it in your face that whoever did this is still out and about," Towle said.
Celina was reported missing July 26, and a trickle of investigators soon turned to scores. They turned the town's elementary school into a barracks and combed the woods and remote roads.
Neighbors stood along the town's main drag handing out fliers bearing her picture and description a stone's throw from the cordoned-off apartment house where she lived.
Hope faded to grief a week later when divers found her submerged body, less than a quarter mile from her home.
The case has yet to be added to the long list of unsolved murder cases investigated by the state's cold case unit.
"The initial team, including myself, continues to work on this," said prosecutor Jane Young, who heads the criminal bureau for the attorney general's office. "There has not been a period of time when it's been dormant or there haven't been leads to investigate."
She continued: "When there is sufficient evidence to prove a case against an individual or individuals beyond a reasonable doubt for Celina's murder, an arrest will occur."
At the time of her disappearance, Celina lived with her 13-year-old sister, her mother, Luisia Cass, her stepfather, Wendell Noyes, and 22-year-old Kevin Mullaney — the son of one of Luisia's former boyfriends.
Mullaney and Noyes were subpoenaed to testify at grand jury proceedings on Celina's case. Court documents show that Noyes had a history of psychiatric issues and was declared unfit to stand trial in a 2003 case in which he was charged with breaking into an ex-girlfriend's home and threatening her.
Mullaney is serving two to six years for receiving stolen property, reckless conduct and being a felon in possession of a handgun for crimes unrelated to Celina's case.
Celina's mother and Noyes didn't return recent calls to their phone numbers listed in public records. Cass separated from Noyes soon after her daughter's body was recovered.
The home where Celina was last seen alive was heavily damaged by fire in December and will likely be razed.
"We pray about it and talk about it and keep her alive by talking about her," said Kirsten Lyons, a school nurse who spoke at Celina's memorial service about the "happy, loving girl with a beautiful smile."
Lyons said there is widespread frustration that the case has not been solved.
"We recently had a case of someone grave-robbing in Colebrook, and it was solved in two weeks," Lyons said. "You wonder how that can be so quickly resolved when we have the death of a young girl coming up on three years and it's still not solved."