STEWARTSTOWN, N.H. — The body of an 11-year-old New Hampshire girl who disappeared almost a week ago was discovered Monday in a river less than half a mile from her home, and authorities said they considered her death suspicious.
Celina Cass was reported missing July 26. New Hampshire and Game divers found her body late Monday morning near a hydroelectric dam that spans the Connecticut River between her hometown of Stewartstown and Canaan, Vt., ending a massive search, Senior Assistant Attorney General Jane Young said. It was recovered from the river Monday evening.
“We have brought Celina home, obviously not the way we wanted to bring her home,” said Young, her voice breaking with emotion.
Authorities had said that Celina, who lived with her older sister, mother and stepfather a mile from the Canadian border, was last seen at her home computer around 9 p.m. on July 25 and was gone the next morning. Police said there was no sign of a struggle, and there was no indication she ran away or that someone took her.
Young declined to say whether there were any suspects in the girl’s death. “We have made no determination on where her body was eventually put in the river,” she said.
An autopsy was scheduled for Tuesday to determine the cause and manner of death. “Based on what we have seen visually, we are treating it as suspicious,” Young said.
According to several media outlets, Celina’s stepfather was taken to a hospital Monday morning. MSNBC reported that Wendell Noyes was taken by ambulance after repeatedly laying down in the family’s driveway and rolling around, and video showed him dropping to his knees in the driveway and then laying face-down, with his head resting on his hands.
At the peak of the search, more than 100 federal, state and local law enforcement officers descended upon the town of 800 residents, searching a mile-wide area around her home, including woods and ponds.
Because of its remote location, law enforcement officers went so far as to have a cellphone tower erected to assist in communications.
Fliers featuring pictures of the girl with a gap-toothed smile had been put up throughout Stewartstown and neighboring communities.
“People don’t tend to think it’s going to happen up here,” said Karen Ramsey of Lancaster, who has family in the area and helped pass out fliers. “It doesn’t just happen in the city.”
State police and FBI agents from as far away as New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia turned the local school into a bustling command post and searched a mile-wide area around the home. The FBI brought in a special team specializing in child abductions.
In 2003, Noyes was involuntarily committed to New Hampshire Hospital in Concord after he entered his girlfriend’s house in the middle of the night and threatened to throw her down stairs, according to court documents. An order signed by a probate judge indicated Noyes suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and believed corrections officials implanted a transmitter in his body to keep track of him.
A court motion filed by his attorney at the time indicated Noyes served in Operation Desert Shield before receiving a medical discharge from the Air Force because of schizophrenia. The attorney didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.
A spokeswoman for Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital, in Colebrook, N.H., said she couldn’t comment on whether Noyes was taken to the hospital on Monday.