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Over 20 Years Later, Pregnant 12-Year-Old Still Missing, Mysteriously Vanishes After Attending Church

Despite over 25 years of intensive investigation, the disappearance of a 12-year-old New Jersey girl remains a mystery to her family and law enforcement. When she disappeared on December 16, 1996, Celina Mays was nine months pregnant. She insisted on keeping the father’s identity secret, leading some family members to speculate that she may have run away to avoid a paternity test.

Others believe she was kidnapped, possibly by someone within her family. Police still suspect that the church Celina’s family attended might have been involved in her disappearance, according to NCMEC.

Police said Celina attended church with her family and then went to bed at around 11 p.m. on the night she disappeared.

Her father, “C.J.” Mays, reported her missing after a family member found Celina’s pillows and blankets arranged to look like she was still sleeping. All her personal belongings were left behind, including her prenatal vitamins.

Celina’s family later told police they hadn’t noticed anything suspicious the night she disappeared. However, her stepmother, Evette Mays, recalled Celina saying, “Thanks for everything” before going to bed.

Medium reports that Celina had a difficult life with limited access to the outside world, which narrowed the case to those within her small circle.

“I know crime shows and crime junkies want to know everything about my sister’s case, but you have to realize there is a broken family behind those stories,” Celina’s sister, Nora, told NCMEC.

“It’s not just Celina Mays went missing in 1996. Did her family have something to do with it? I’m asking for a bit of grace here, because it’s not every day your kid goes missing.”

In the early ’90s, the Mays family operated a church called the Gospel of Christ Ministries in Mount Holly. Nori described it as looking like a typical church but claimed there was a dark side.

According to Nori, her aunt, Cerita Smith, was the pastor. Cerita allegedly ran the cult like a church, and her family, including Celina, were “stuck.” The church has since been shut down.

“My aunt dictated my parents’ marriage and everyone else’s and their kids,” Nori said. “I do not judge my dad or my mom for their inability to act out against the church. They were afraid, but they did everything they could to help Celina.”

Anyone with information on Celina’s disappearance is urged to call NCMEC at 1-800-843-5678.

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