WILLINGBORO, N.J. (CBS) — This week, CBS3 Mysteries is examining the case of Celina Mays, a 12-year-old Burlington County girl who vanished more than two decades ago. She was nine months pregnant.
There have been few clues surrounding her disappearance, but detectives aren’t giving up.READ MORE: 5 People Shot Near Temple University, Philadelphia Police Say
From all appearances, Celina was a happy 12-year-old. She lived on a quiet, suburban street in Willingboro with her family. She sang in her church choir.
But nine months before her December 1996 disappearance, she was 11 and became pregnant.
“She went missing in the middle of the night, as her father reported to us,” Detective Monica Pogorzelski said. “She did not give birth yet. She was nine months pregnant.”
Pogorzelski inherited the 25-year-old cold case, an investigation that has failed to conclude where Celina is.
“Well, we’re not sure,” Pogorzelski said. “We’ve investigated over 254 leads throughout the past 25 years. Recently, we’ve had four more leads that we’re now investigating.”
Detectives say the Mays family had a strong connection to a Mount Holly church. It’s been defunct for more than 10 years. It was known as the Gospel of Christ Ministry. Its pastor is deceased, other church officials are unreachable.
It hasn’t been easy for police, though. Their early efforts to obtain a search warrant were blocked by a judge, frustrating their attempts to get answers.
“They were involved completely with a church organization — her aunt, Serita Smith, was the pastor,” Pogorzelski said. “She also since has passed. Many people alive at the time of her disappearance have now passed.”
Over the years, age progression photos have shown us what Celina looks like today.PPA Adding Patrols To Monitor Illegally Parked Cars In Bike Lanes Amid Growing Number Of Bicyclists Killed In Philly
Surviving family members are hopeful for answers.
“As far as we know, she was accepting of the pregnancy,” Pogorzelski said. “And ready to move forward, so for her to go missing after carrying a baby for nine months, it’s very strange.”
Investigators believe there’s a possible connection between the disappearance and the church.
“We have many theories,” Pogorzelski said. “We are hoping she is alive and that we can find her.”
Police say it’s possible Celina could now be living with a different name, even unaware police are looking for her. They say the church had affiliations in other states. Its long been held leadership at the closed-down worship site encouraged other members to avoid cooperating with police.
CBS3 Mysteries looked for any clues to try and reach someone, but the place appeared to be long vacant.
“The congregation was a very large congregation. Maybe someone knows something, can come forward and tell us,” Pogorzelski said.
Do you have information on what happened to Celina Mays?
Willingboro police would like you to call them at 609-877-2200 ext. 1080.
Does Pogorzelski think about this case often?MORE NEWS: Dirt Bike Rider Wanted In Hit-And-Run That Left Teenager Dead, Philadelphia Police Say
“Every day,” Pogorzelski said.