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Search for girl intensifies



Last modified: Thursday, July 28, 2011
The FBI deployed a team that specializes in child abductions and the police wrapped the Stewartstown home where 11-year-old Celina Cass was last seen in crime scene tape yesterday.

But authorities gave little new information in what they're calling a missing person case.

Investigators had originally said the disappearance of the girl, last seen at home Monday night, didn't appear suspicious.

At a brief press conference last night, New Hampshire Assistant Attorney General Jane Young said locals in this town just this side of the Canadian border need to "remain vigilant," but she did not answer questions as to possible leads or why an Amber Alert has not been issued for Cass.

Friends and family waved down cars with missing person posters yesterday along Route 3, outside the home where Cass was last seen at 9 p.m. Monday. She shares the first-floor apartment in the teal-trimmed Victorian home with her mother, Louisa Noyes, stepfather Wendell Noyes and older sister, according to Cass's aunt Lori McKearney.

Cass would have slept on the living room couch Monday night, her aunt said, because the girl is scared to stay in the basement alone and her sister was sleeping at a friend's house. That friend, Kaylin Pettat, said Cass is a shy kid "but the nicest girl you've ever met."

McKearney and Pettat combed the town yesterday under murky clouded skies, taping posters on poles, storefronts and car windows. They gave stacks to passing truck drivers, hoping to spread the message.

As they stopped near the town's main intersection, Nicole Sarazin pulled over in an SUV plastered in signs. Sarazin, a good friend of Cass's mother, said it's not like the girl to leave home alone.

"There is always a note or 'Mom can I?' or she goes with her sister," she said.

That's why relatives and friends are so baffled by the girl's disappearance, she added.

"I don't know where my mind is. It's in seven million places," Sarazin said. "I'm trying to think like an 11-year-old girl these days."

"I'm trying to think positive," Pettat said.

Before the police blocked it with crime scene tape, friends and family members gathered outside Cass's home, sitting on the paint-chipped porch, leaning against the siding or standing with arms crossed, swaying silently in the gravel driveway. Some said they didn't know much and weren't at liberty to discuss what they had been told by the police. On Tuesday night, more than 50 people gathered outside the three-story home for a candlelight vigil, and another gathering at a local park was planned for late yesterday.

The home is just over a mile from the Canadian border and a few yards from the small town's one blinking yellow light. Vehicles driving through slowed yesterday, peering out at the mass of officers, reporters and residents gathered in the normally quiet town center.

The police set up a makeshift headquarters at a business just south of the main intersection, where vehicles from the U.S. Border Patrol, the attorney general's office, New Hampshire State Police, state Fish and Game and other agencies were coming and going throughout the day. The FBI also joined the search yesterday, deploying their child abduction rapid response team.

Cass's mother, held up by people on either side, was slowly helped from police headquarters to her home about 4 p.m. yesterday, as friends and family draped a blanket over her. About 45 minutes later, she again walked, slumped under a blanket, from her home to the police station.

About that time, officers began conducting line searches on the shoulders along Route 3, close to Cass's home. Officials started their search in Stewartstown on Tuesday, with as many as three dozen people participating at one time, according to the Associated Press.

Residents of this small town of about 900 people said yesterday those unknowns were overwhelming.

Stewartstown is the kind of watchful community where kids don't get away with much, resident Shannon Towle said. If Cass tried to hitchhike, someone would have seen her and called the girl's parents, she said.

"If anyone sees someone's kids in trouble or if someone's in need, you don't hesitate to ask," she said.

Towle, who owns a gas station and convenience store on Route 3 in town, said her daughter often plays with Cass's sister Kayla. She said Cass has come over to their home a few times to play with their animals and particularly loves their horses.

This is a quiet town, Towle said. And she knows 90 percent of the people who come into her shop by name. This is the first time she has felt scared here.

"I'm angry. I'm terrified. I have a 13-year-old girl and we live behind this store. She walks here all the time," Towle said, pointing across the street toward Cass's home. "Should I not let her do that anymore?"

Young said late yesterday authorities are continuing to "desperately" search for Cass and stressed community involvement is paramount. Friends and family echoed the same message as they walked the streets of this small mountain town, missing person posters in hand.

"Even if you think it's a small tip, it could be the tip," Sarazin said. "We want to get her back home."

(Tricia L. Nadolny can be reached at tnadolny@cmonitor.com.)