Autopsy can't find cause of NH girl Celina Cass' death
STEWARTSTOWN, N.H. (AP) - An autopsy conducted on the body of an 11-year-old girl who went missing for a week before being found dead in a river was unable to determine how she died, authorities said Tuesday.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Jane Young said the autopsy was conducted Tuesday but didn't determine the cause or manner of Celina Cass' death and further study is required.
Celina's death has been deemed suspicious, based on what divers found, and investigators were treating the case as a criminal investigation.
Celina, who lived with her older sister, mother and stepfather a mile from Canada, was last seen at her home computer around 9 p.m. on July 25 and was gone the next morning, authorities said. Police said there was no sign of a struggle and there was no indication she ran away or someone took her.
Community residents were saddened that the autopsy wasn't able to provide them with any closure.
"I don't even know what to say. I thought the community needed some answers, and I thought we were going to get them tonight," said Debbie Whelan, whose daughter, a friend of Celina's, was sobbing after watching a news report on a TV monitor.
More than 100 federal, state and local law enforcement officers descended last week upon the Stewartstown area, searching a mile-wide area around her home, including woods and ponds. Five hundred tips were received and the FBI offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to her and to the arrest and prosecution of anyone responsible for her disappearance.
On Monday, the intense search came to an abrupt end when New Hampshire Fish and Game Department divers found her body near a hydroelectric dam that spans the Connecticut River between Stewartstown and Canaan, Vt.
Investigators on Tuesday combed the area along the river, which divides Vermont and New Hampshire, above where Celina's body was found. A crime scene technician said they were doing computer-aided diagramming to give them a precise electronic image of the area.
Celina's stepfather, Wendell Noyes, who reportedly was hospitalized hours before her body was recovered from the river, returned to the community Tuesday.
Witnesses said Noyes was taken away by ambulance Monday after lying down with his face in his arms outside a home where he had been staying in Stewartstown. Hospital officials declined to say whether he was a patient. Shannon Towle, owner of Towle's Mini-Mart, said she sold him cigarettes Tuesday morning.
In the first days after Celina disappeared, Noyes had described her as a quiet girl who would not have left home on her own, but he had declined to comment further.
Residents considered canceling their annual children's fair in light of the fifth-grader's death but instead decided to go forward with the weekend event and to dedicate it to her memory.
"It's still a scary place for our children," Patricia Grover, who's on the organizing committee for Stewartstown Days, told The Associated Press. "They need something that's on a little happier note for them."