Search expands for missing N.H. girl

FBI joins effort; police say no sign she ran away

Lori McKearney and Kaylin Pettit hung up signs in Colebrook, N.H., asking for help finding Celina Cass, missing since Monday. Lori McKearney and Kaylin Pettit hung up signs in Colebrook, N.H., asking for help finding Celina Cass, missing since Monday. (Charles Krupa/ Associated Press)
By John Curran
Associated Press / July 28, 2011

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STEWARTSTOWN, N.H. - The disappearance of an 11-year-old girl from her house just a mile from the Canadian border rattled nerves in her small town yesterday as crews searched the Connecticut River and cordoned the house with police tape and the FBI deployed a team that specializes in child abductions.

Celina Cass was last seen in her house at a computer about 9 p.m. Monday and was gone the next morning, authorities said. Police said there was no indication she ran away or that someone took her, and there were no signs of a struggle.

Prosecutors from the attorney general’s office arrived yesterday in Stewartstown and took charge of the investigation into the girl’s disappearance, which was being treated as a missing-person case.

“We are still desperately looking for her,’’ said Senior Assistant Attorney General Jane Young.

She held a press conference last night with the head of the local FBI office, Kieran Ramsay, but would not take questions.

The specter of the girl’s disappearance hung heavy over Stewartstown, a community of 800 residents with one blinking streetlight and a handful of stores.

“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.’’

About 80 people, many with candles in hand and tears in their eyes, gathered for a nighttime vigil for Celina in neighboring Canaan, Vt. A framed picture of the girl sat on a picnic table, surrounded by candles.

Celina’s stepfather, Wendell Noyes, described her as a quiet girl who would not have left home on her own. He declined to comment further on her disappearance.

Residents described Celina as a sweet, friendly child. One of her best friends, 11-year-old Makayla Riendeau, said Celina loves her mother and likes her stepfather and would not run away. She said Celina is athletic, is a stickler about getting her schoolwork done on time, and loves having friends over to her house.

By yesterday afternoon, family members and friends were camped out on the porch of the three-story wooden home and shooed away reporters.

Young, the senior assistant attorney general, entered the home with several officers about 2 p.m. and came out with a woman, whom they walked to a nearby office building that served as a command post. Young declined to comment on that.

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

Police descended on a parked pickup truck across the street from the girl’s home, and officers wearing gloves examined it.

On Tuesday, state and federal law enforcement officials scoured the area within a half-mile of the family home.

Celina’s disappearance did not meet the criteria for an Amber Alert and was not considered suspicious, State Police Sergeant Sheldon Belanger said. Police were going through phone and computer records at Celina’s home, he said.

“Honestly, we don’t know where else we can look,’’ said Lieutenant Douglas Gralenski, a state Fish and Game official whose agency is helping State Police search the river.

Fliers with the girl’s smiling face are posted on trees, utility poles, and stores in the town.

Gralenski said yesterday that a small boat with an officer and fishing guide was searching the river about a quarter-mile from Celina’s 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.

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 all-terrain vehicle trails in the woods.