As authorities await test results in the mysterious death of 11-year-old Celina Cass, her tiny New Hampshire town is mourning the loss of the “sweet” and “generous” girl, whose body was found Monday in a river near her home.
“We brought Celina home,” state Senior Assistant Attorney General Jane Young, her voice cracking, said at a press conference. “Obviously not the way we wanted to bring her home.”
The discovery of Cass’s body shocked and saddened tight-knit West Stewartstown, a northern town of only 800 located close to the borders of Vermont and Canada.
It was also the second blow to New Hampshire – home to the White Mountains and known for its outdoor sports including skiing, hiking and mountaineering – a state totally unaccustomed to making national crime news.
Another Disappearance and Death
In April, 20-year-old mother Krista Dittmeyer of Maine vanished, leaving behind her baby inside a car with the engine running and hazard lights blinking at the Cranmore Mountain Resort in Conway, N.H.
The case stymied police, who said they didn’t believe the young mom willingly abandoned her baby or disappeared on her own accord. Her body was found days later in a snowmaking pond, and three men were charged: Anthony Papile, 28, with two counts of second-degree murder; Michael Petelis, 28; and Trevor Ferguson, 23, each with one count of conspiracy to commit robbery.
The plot was to steal money and drugs from Dittmeyer, according to court documents, The Portland Press-Herald reports.
Papile allegedly struck Dittmeyer in the head as she walked up the stairs to his apartment on April 22. Papile and Petelis then bound her with duct tape before putting her in the trunk of her own car.
Once at the ski resort, Papile allegedly removed her from the trunk and disposed of her body in the pond. Court documents state that Papile caused Dittmeyer’s death by “suffocating and/or drowning.” Dittmeyer’s baby daughter was found unharmed
A Town Mourns
On Tuesday, the day after Celina Cass’s body was discovered, grief counseling was offered to West Stewartstown’s school children, and local media reported many tearful residents struggling to process the loss of the child.
Cass was last seen at home where she lived with her mother, stepfather and older sister on Monday, July 25, around 9 p.m., according to police. The following morning she had disappeared with no signs of a struggle or indication she’d run away, authorities say.
No suspects have been named, but Young called the death “suspicious” and said law enforcement is proceeding with a criminal investigation. An autopsy was conducted and authorities are awaiting the results of toxicology tests.
Locals held a candlelight vigil Monday night after her body was identified. A priest spoke to the assembled crowd, who sang “Amazing Grace,” ABC News reports. Cass’s best friend collapsed in tears as friends talked about how much they would miss her. People also wrote messages, including, “See you in heaven,” on balloons and let go, but court documents offer no updates.
A Troubled Past
Cass’s mother and her stepfather Wendell Noyes (who married in 2010) have stayed out of the media’s glare since their daughter disappeared. Police secured their home with crime scene tape almost immediately and it remains there, but authorities say the search of the home is just one avenue of investigation.
Noyes, 47, suffered an unknown medical problem early Monday and was taken by ambulance to a hospital after being seen dropping onto the ground, lying face down, and flailing; he has since been released, according to reports.
Noyes, who has not been named as a suspect or a person of interest in the case, has a troubled past: in 2003 he was involuntarily committed to a hospital because of schizophrenia and arrested for threatening an ex-girlfriend, according to court documents, ABC News reports. He was also charged with violating a protective order held by his ex-girlfriend and for criminal trespassing, criminal threatening and hindering apprehension.
One of Celina’s best friends, 11-year-old Makayla Riendeau, said Celina loved her mother and liked her stepfather. She called Celina very athletic and said she loved having friends over to her house.
“She’s a very good friend,” Makayla said before Cass’s body was found, according to the Associated Press, “and she never lets anybody down.”