ESSEX COUNTY, Mass. (WHNT) — The family of Melissa Ann Tremblay released a statement Friday morning following the recent arrest of Marven C. McClendon. Legal authorities connect the Cullman County, Alabama man to Melissa’s 1988 murder when she was just 11.

They say they never gave up hope and have prayed for justice ever since that fateful day 33 years ago. “We have never stopped thinking of Missy,” said Danielle Root, Melissa’s aunt.

Missy disappeared from the streets of Lawrence, Massachusetts on a late summer evening while playing around the neighborhood of the LaSalle Social Club. Her mother and her mother’s boyfriend couldn’t find her and began a frantic search, ultimately reporting her missing at 9 p.m.

She was last seen by a pizza delivery driver during the late afternoon hours, according to AL.com. Her body was found the next day, just a block away from the social club, authorities said. She was left, lifeless, on the tracks of the old Boston and Maine Railway Yard in Lawrence. She was stabbed multiple times, and her left leg had been cut off by a train car after she died, according to Essex County District Attorney Johnathan Blodgett.

Speaking on behalf of her parents and sister, Root said:

”As the family of Melissa Tremblay, we would like to address the recent arrest made in her case. First and foremost, we would like to thank the police who have worked so hard over the years to make sure justice was found. Thank you to the Essex District Attorney’s Office for reaching out to us to make sure we knew what was going on, especially Michelle Defeo, who worked hard to locate us since we have moved out of state.  

Since her murder in 1988, we have always prayed for justice. We have never stopped thinking of Missy, despite what others, who say they are her friends, have said in the media in the past years. My aunt Janet may not have used the best judgement in allowing Missy to play around the neighborhood of the social club, but that is between her and God. She loved Missy and never intended any harm to come to her.  

We thank everyone for their prayers and so many of the kind words we have seen posted on the social media articles.  We are very eager for the next steps that the Essex County DA’s office will be taking in the prosecution of Marvin McClendon.”

Seventy-four-year-old Marvin “Skip” McClendon was arrested at his Bremen, Alabama home on April 26 on a fugitive-from-justice warrant. A former Massachusetts Department of Corrections officer, McClendon “has been a person of interest for a period of time,” Blodgett said in a press conference shortly after his arrest. “We believe we have the right person.”

Carrie Kimball with the Essex County DA’s office said the case, though never fully closed, was reopened “with intention” in 2014. Investigators, Kimball said, were digging through the case again “in earnest.”

“Melissa has never been forgotten,” Blodgett said. Evidence from her body was “instrumental,” officials said, in leading them to McClendon. But the DA’s office also said that the nature of that evidence won’t be released, for now.

McClendon is currently awaiting extradition to Massachusetts, as Kimball said he already waived rendition, agreeing to be transported back to the state. Once there, he is expected to be arraigned in District Court to start the process of a murder trial, Kimball stated.

There is no death penalty in Massachusetts. According to Kimball, if convicted of first-degree murder, the highest penalty McClendon faces is a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.