12-Year-Old Celina Mays Was 9 Months Pregnant When She Vanished In 1996
Celina Mays was 12-years-old and two weeks away from giving birth when she disappeared in the middle of the night from her New Jersey home.
Investigators said Celina Mays was 12-years-old and pregnant when she disappeared without a trace more than two decades ago from her Willingboro, N.J. home. She was last seen on December 16, 1996.
Detective Monica Pogorzelski with the Willingboro Police department told CBS 3, “She went missing in the middle of the night, as her father reported to us. She did not give birth yet. She was nine months pregnant.” Pogorzelski said from everything investigators learned over the years, Celina was accepting of her pregnancy and it was "very strange" for her to go missing, especially only two weeks away from having her baby.
The Burlington County Times reported that on the night before Celina vanished, she went to church, had ice cream with her family and then went to bed around 11 p.m. She kissed her family goodnight. The next morning, according to reports, Celina's 4-year-old step-sister went in to wake her up, but found only pillows and sheets. The bed was set to make it seem as if the 12-year-old was still sleeping. All of Celina’s personal belongings were left behind.
For more than 25 years, authorities said they've received more than 250 leads. Pogorzelski added, "Recently, we’ve had four more leads that we’re now investigating.” In 1997, a promising lead was called into authorities. The owner of a local restaurant in Howell believed he saw Celina dining with friends and she was not pregnant. Detectives chased the tip down, but it was later determined the sighting was not Celina.
At the time of her mysterious disappearance, Celina reportedly had close ties to the Gospel of Christ Ministry in Mount Holly. The church's doors are closed and many members have since passed away, including her aunt who was the head pastor. C.J. Mays, Celina's father, remarried after her mother passed away. There was a custody battle between her father and her mother's family, but ultimately, Mays was granted full custody.
C.J. reportedly said early on in the case Celina was upset when she learned a blood test could determine the father of her child. Celina mentioned the father was 16-years-old and not a member of the church. C.J. passed away in 2019.
The road has not been easy for investigators. Reportedly, they tried to get a judge to sign off on a search warrant early on, but those efforts were blocked.
Investigators believe it's possible Celina could still be connected to her faith today and unaware authorities are even looking for her. It's also possible she could be using another name.
CBS 3 reported, "Its long been held leadership at the closed-down worship site encouraged other members to avoid cooperating with police."
Celina would be 37-years-old now and her child would be 25. Her birthday is May 21, 1994 and Celina’s eyebrows are known to grow together. The current age progression is what Celina may have looked like at the age of 33.
If you know anything about this case, please contact the Willingboro Police directly: 609-877-2200 ext. 1080. You can also reach out to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: 1-800-THE-LOST