December 5, 2008 6:14 AM
Billboard seeks clues in girl's disappearance
Burlington County Times
The words â€œstill missingâ€ in large capital letters on a billboard at the intersection of Marne Highway and the Route 541 Bypass in Hainesport say it all.
Alongside those words is a rendering of what Celina Janette Mays, who was reported missing 12 years ago, could look like today.
The Willingboro Police Department placed Celina's image and information about her disappearance on the billboard Wednesday in hopes that it will help solve the open case.
â€œIt's an unfortunate case,â€ Willingboro Police Lt. Joseph Dey said yesterday.
Celina was reported missing Dec. 16, 1996. She was 12 years old at the time and nine months pregnant.
The police department has been working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Although hundreds of tips have come in since Celina's disappearance, none have helped locate the girl.
When she disappeared, police followed leads throughout the state and went as far as Florida, where she had relatives and family.
Police also talked with members of the Gospel of Christ Ministries Inc., a small Pentecostal congregation in Mount Holy founded by Celina's aunt, Cerita Smith.
Celina lived with family and members of the congregation in a communal home in Willingboro owned by the church.
Dey and others hold out hope that Celina is safe somewhere and doesn't realize people are still searching for her.
â€œTwelve years is a long time,â€ he said. â€œShe may not realize she's still listed as missing.â€
Dey said the Police Department believes there are people with information on the case and there is hope they will come forward.
He said billboard campaigns have worked in other states and the Police Department hopes it will help bring in information on Celina.
â€œHopefully we can jog people's memories,â€ he said.
Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, applauded efforts of the Willingboro Police Department to remind motorists of Celina's disappearance.
â€œI think that's great,â€ he said. â€œThe challenge in these longer-term cases is that the world forgets.â€
Allen said over the years the center has used national media and the private sector to try to resolve the case that has grown cold. He said the center continues to circulate Celina's photograph and hold out hope that she is alive.
He said more than a dozen children who have been missing for many years have been found alive. He also said the center's cold case unit has helped close cases from as far back as 1947 in recent years.
â€œWe're just trying to keep the case alive,â€ he said. â€œOur view is that somebody knows what happened to Celina. Somebody has information.â€