It was the evening of December 15, 1996, in a quiet Willingboro, New Jersey neighborhood when Celina Janette Mays was seen by her aunt heading to bed. The following morning, Celina’s father, C. J. Mays, checked in on his 12-year-old daughter but found that she was missing. Pillows had been arranged under the blankets to give the impression that someone was sleeping. The nine-month-pregnant pre-teen had vanished, but her prenatal vitamins, personal items, and purse were still in the room.
No one has heard from Celina since.
The occupants in the home were Celina, her father, her stepmother, her aunt, and a number of other relatives. C.J. reportedly worked as an accountant for a New Jersey church where his sister acted as pastor. Although she came from a religious and strict upbringing, even being homeschooled, Celina surprised her family when she told them she was expecting. She didn’t want to reveal the name of the father of her baby and C.J. threatened to seek paternity to find out who impregnated his child.
The church C.J. and his sister worked for, the Gospel of Christ Ministries Inc., was the subject of controversy. Some made claims that the church was using brainwashing techniques on their members leaving Celina’s family to believe that former church members assisted in hiding her away. To further complicate things, as detectives were investigating Celina’s disappearance, C.J. reportedly became less cooperative. The Charley Project states that one of Celina’s relatives said the young girl was murdered by the father of her child in order to make sure no one ever found out his identity (as he may have been charged with rape, depending on his age). There was also speculation that she may have sneaked out to obtain an illegal abortion and died as a result.
While authorities maintained that they have no idea who the father of Celina’s child was, there were rumors that it was her cousin. This relative was interviewed soon after Celina went missing and he claimed that he had no knowledge of where she might be. Celina’s aunt reportedly believes that the father of the 12-year-old’s baby was a boy she met while roller skating.
This case has caused her family to be at odds. Her mother passed away from a brain aneurysm two years before Celina’s disappearance. Many family members on Celina’s mother’s side believe that the 12-year-old met with foul play while the girl’s father’s side insists the mother’s side is hiding her away. There is no evidence to support either theory.
Celina’s doctor was also questioned as investigators had hopes that they would be able to identify the baby’s father. While the doctor could not give them a name, they told authorities that Celina shared that the father of her child was a 16-year-old boy who was not a member of her family’s church.
Since her disappearance, people have reported seeing Celina around New Jersey, Texas, and New York. None of these sightings have been confirmed. Celina would be 35-years-old now and eligible to inherit the large life insurance police her mother left her. It’s important to note that police do not consider Celina to be a homicide victim, nor is she classified as a runaway. They’ve maintained that she is an endangered missing person.
At the time of her disappearance, Celina was 5 foot tall and 120 pounds. The date she went missing was on December 15 and she was scheduled to give birth on December 29. Celina is biracial (black and white) with black hair (very long and wavy at the time she went missing), brown eyes, and a unibrow. Some agencies have her listed as being Hispanic and have her middle name as “Janet.” She was possibly wearing a long red coat.
Anyone with any information regarding this case is urged to contact the Willingboro Police Department at 609-877-2253. Please share this story concerning the disappearance of Celina Janette Mays to help reignite her investigation. She is our sister and her life matters.