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Homicide ruled in death of N.H. girl

But officials withhold exact cause of demise

Celina Cass, 11, disappeared from her home on July 26. Celina Cass, 11, disappeared from her home on July 26.
By Martine Powers
Globe Staff / September 23, 2011

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The New Hampshire medical examiner’s office declared yesterday that the death of 11-year-old Celina Cass, whose body was found submerged in a river, to be a homicide.

But that ruling did little to solve a mystery that has haunted the northern edge of the state for nearly two months. The exact cause of her demise was not released, and police have yet to find her killer.

The findings of the medical examiner came to light in an announcement by New Hampshire Attorney General Michael A. Delaney.

“After further investigation and receiving toxicology results, Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Jennie V. Duval, MD, has ruled Celina Cass’s manner of death to be a homicide,’’ Delaney’s statement said.

While the medical examiner determined the cause of the girl’s death, Delaney wrote, that information is not being released to the public, in order to protect the integrity of the investigation.

Cass was reported missing from her West Stewartstown home July 26. After a weeklong search that involved more than 100 law officers - including State Police from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont; the FBI; and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police - her body was found wrapped in a blanket in the Connecticut River.

An autopsy was inconclusive, authorities said, and for weeks, family and friends of the 11-year-old waited for the results of a toxicology report to gain insight into how the girl died.

Jane Young, senior assistant attorney general, said authorities have declined to release details of the toxicology report or information about the cause of death because that could taint the testimony of potential witnesses.

“When we’re interviewing people, we want to make sure that what they’re saying to us is based on actual knowledge, and not on things they’ve been reading in the news,’’ Young said. “Our ultimate goal is to bring Celina’s killer to justice, so there is limited information that we can give out.’’

While the medical examiner’s ruling has helped police hone their investigation, Young said, the announcement came as little surprise to officials trying to find the person responsible for the 11-year-old’s death.

“We have been treating this as a homicide investigation from the beginning,’’ Young said.

To date, at least $30,000 has been offered in reward money for information leading to the identification of Celina’s killer. Authorities have received hundreds of tips from the public.

In the weeks since Celina’s body was discovered, her family has waited anxiously to find out the manner of the girl’s death and the identity of the person responsible. On Tuesday, the girl’s mother, Louisa Cass, told New Hampshire’s WMUR that she remains desperate for answers.

According to the Associated Press, the mother and her other daughter met with investigators at the Coos County attorney’s office in Lancaster for two hours yesterday morning.

Celina grew up in West Stewartstown, a town of fewer than 1,000 people a few miles from the Canadian border. She played Pee Wee basketball at the Canaan School and would have entered fifth grade this fall.

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com.