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MASSACHUSETTS (WHNT) — For the family of Melissa Ann Tremblay, September 12, 1988, is a day forever etched in their minds.

It’s been almost 34 years since that horrific night in Lawrence, Massachusetts when the 11-year-old was murdered. The family of “Missy” said they have never lost hope that the person responsible for killing her would be brought to justice.

On that late September night, Missy was playing in the neighborhood near the LaSalle Social Club while her mother and her mother’s boyfriend were inside. Just a few hours later, after searching frantically for the young girl, they reported her as missing.

Melissa “Missy” Tremblay
(Essex County District Attorney’s Office)

Missy’s body was found the next day, just one block from the social club, authorities said. She had been stabbed several times, according to Essex County District Attorney Johnathan Blodgett. Her lifeless body had been tossed on the train tracks of the old Boston & Maine Railway Yard.

Blodgett said her left leg had been amputated by a train car after she died.

DNA evidence linked one man to her murder – Marvin C. ‘Skip’ McClendon. The now 74-year-old ex-corrections officer was living in Cullman County, Alabama. On April 26, 2022, McClendon was arrested at his home in Bremen, Alabama on a fugitive-from-justice warrant.

Since his arrest, Missy’s family has kept a close watch on all of the legal proceedings, through arraignments and hearings – and hearing McClendon enter a plea of not guilty.

Now, they have been kind enough to open up to News 19 about Missy’s life, and what the past three and a half decades have been like waiting for her killer to be named.

Daneille Root, Missy’s cousin, says that the 11-year-old was full of energy and had a lot of plans for her life.

“She was loved very much by her family,” said Root. “She didn’t deserve to be taken from this world in the manner she was. Even though at times Missy could be a handful, [we] loved her very much and have missed her. She was the light of my aunt’s eye.”

Missy with her mother, Janet
(Courtesy Daneille Root)

Root says as a kid herself at the time, she didn’t fully understand the full scope of what had happened.

“When she went missing, my parents were told, but they didn’t tell my sister and [me] until the next day when her body [was] found,” Root recalls. “I remember being pulled out of my biology class by my teacher who told me there was a family emergency…and my parents were on the way to pick me up. I don’t really remember them telling us, but I remember driving down to my uncle’s house where the family had gathered and sat with my other cousins, and everyone [was] very sad.”

Missy’s death took an exhausting toll on her mother over the years, Root says. She passed away before McClendon’s arrest.

“My aunt loved Missy so much. I remember every card and gift we ever received was from her and Missy,” says Root. “She would talk to her all the time…I truly believe she thought Missy was still with her. I think it was devastating for her to lose Missy – especially in the way she did. But she held on to her memory until the day she died.”

Missy (in pink) pictured with her cousin Daneille Root (white dress) during Easter. (Courtesy of Daneille Root)

It wasn’t just Missy’s mom that was waiting year after year for justice, so when Root listened to a voicemail from the District Attorney’s office asking her to call back, she says the first thing that came to her mind was Missy.

“When we talked to the victim’s advocate and she advised that there had been an arrest, I had a lot of emotions all at once,” recalled Root. “I remember spiraling a bit and looking on social media, trying to read everything that had been posted. It brought so many memories flooding back and my emotions were all over the place. I was shocked and happy and appreciative that the police department had never given up on Missy’s case.”

At a hearing in early May, McClendon pleaded not guilty to Missy’s murder. Root says she’s not worried.

“If the [District Attorney’s office] feels they have the right man, I believe them and know they will do their best to get a conviction,” says Root. “We have never given up hope that one day, justice would be found for Missy. With all the advancements in DNA technology, we were confident that the police department would eventually be able to close Missy’s case.”

Root says their entire family is grateful to those who worked the case and never gave up.

“We want them to all know how much their perseverance means to our family,” she says. “Because of them, we are finally getting some closure. We appreciate and thank everyone that has been involved in this case.”

Over the years, Root says she has had her own struggles with the case.

Missy with her mother, Janet during Christmas celebrations (Courtesy of Daneille Root)

“The decision my aunt made that day to let Missy roam that area may not have been the right one, but she didn’t mean for Missy to be harmed,” says Root. “She loved Missy with all her heart and would have given her life in place of Missy’s if she could have. Over the years I have struggled with the decision my aunt made and it took me years to forgive her. No child Missy’s age should have been left to roam around Lawrence on her own while her mom was inside a social club with her boyfriend, but I had to realize that it was not my place to judge her. That it is only something between her and God – and something she had to live the remainder of her life with. The person ultimately responsible for Missy’s death is Marvin McClendon.”

Root says Missy’s family has one question for McClendon:

“Why? Why Missy? Who do you think you are to take her life, and then go on and live your life like nothing ever happened?”

Marvin C. McClendon Jr. appears in Essex Superior Court, Thursday July 7, 2022, in Salem, Mass. McClendon Jr., a former Massachusetts corrections worker, was arraigned on murder charges in connection with the cold case death of 11-year-old Melissa Tremblay. (Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via AP, Pool)

Following McClendon’s arrest, Root released a statement on behalf of Missy’s family:

“I want to thank everyone who has worked on her case over the years. They have never given up and because of that, we were able to sit in the courtroom today and face her killer. We are about 2 months shy of 34 years since we lost Missy and we have never given up hope that her killer would be found. Over the years, some people have said that we didn’t care about her, but that is not true. She has always been in our thoughts. We chose to put our faith in God, the Lawrence Police Department, the Massachusetts State Police and the Essex District Attorney’s Office. Clearly, that was the right choice. Many people have blamed my aunt for Missy’s death. While I don’t believe she made the right decision that night, that is between her and God. Ultimately the only person responsible for Missy’s death is the man we saw in court today – Marvin McClendon. He made the decision to take a life that night for whatever reason and he is finally going to face a judge and jury for that decision. Not only will he face judgment here on earth but he will face God’s judgment one day too. I do want to say a special thanks to the Essex District Attorney’s Office. They didn’t give up in trying to find us when an arrest was made. They have stayed in contact since then to make sure we had all the information they could release to us and that we were okay. The Office even arranged it so we could call into the courthouse for the original arraignment in district court so we didn’t miss anything and then reached out to make sure we understood what had occurred. We also appreciate that the District Attorney’s Office scheduled this arraignment for today while I was visiting family in New Hampshire so that I could attend in person. Again, thank you to everyone involved in getting us to this day.”

News 19 asked Root if there was anything she wishes she could say to Missy now.

Melissa “Missy” Tremblay
(Courtesy Daneille Root)

“We love you and miss you very much, and are so sorry that this happened to you. I wish you could have lived a long and happy life.”