Day 4: Tucson police look for missing-children cases elsewhere with 'similar M.O.'

100+ leads followed thus far; thousands of fliers posted areawide
2012-04-24T00:01:00Z 2013-09-10T17:14:35Z Day 4: Tucson police look for missing-children cases elsewhere with 'similar M.O.'Veronica M. Cruz and Carmen Duarte Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

9 p.m. — Tucson police have contacted law enforcement agencies in Arizona and across the nation to discuss “cases that are similar or have a similar M.O.” to that of a missing girl here, police Lt. Matt Ronstadt said Tuesday night.

Other agencies have contacted Tucson police to share cases that are similar and ongoing, he added, declining to elaborate.

Also, FBI behavioral analysts went into the midtown home of missing 6-year-old Isabel Celis Tuesday night, "to get their own firsthand perspective," Ronstadt said.

4:15 — Police completed their search at the city landfill today, finding no clues to solving the disappearance of a missing Tucson girl.

About 50 officers spent two days searching Los Reales landfill for clues. The search was prompted after a weekend garbage collection in the area where the family of Isabel lives near East Broadway and South Craycroft Road. The child was reported missing from her home Saturday morning.

Chief Roberto Villaseñor still said after a news briefing at 4 p.m. that he cannot call the case an abduction, saying instead it is a suspicious disappearance.

Villaseñor said some 250 leads in the case have been pursued.

“Obviously I’m disappointed we haven’t found her at this point,” Villaseñor told reporters seeking an update in the investigations, which is now well into its fourth day. However, Villaseñor quickly followed that by saying he remains hopeful for a good outcome in the case.

Villaseñor said he was going to a briefing with FBI profilers this afternoon hoping to get their insight into the investigation so far.

He was stern in saying that new developments in the case cannot be expected to come on a particular schedule. 

FBI profilers to help find missing Tucson girl

12:30 — FBI profilers will be in Tucson this afternoon to begin working on the case of a missing Tucson girl, police said.

The behavior analysts who in part help develop a profile of possible suspects in crimes, might “tell us what we’re looking for,” Chief Roberto Villaseñor, told reporters at a news briefing today.

Villaseñor confirmed that the Celis family — parents Sergio and Becky Celis, as well as their two sons — were at home Friday, the last time Isabel was seen before she was reported missing Saturday morning. He said he did not believe anyone else was at the home Friday night.

The next police news conference is set for 4 p.m. today.

Day 4: Chief asks for more tips to help find Isabel

10:30 — Tucson’s police chief today pushed for the community to keep passing tips about a 6-year-old girl missing since Friday to police.

“No tip is unimportant to us,” Chief Roberto Villaseñor said this morning at one of the department’s regularly scheduled news briefings, which have recently revealed few new clues into the search for Isabel Mercedes Celis.

Police today, however, said Isabel’s case has been marked as the highest profile case in the country by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

The national organization put Isabel at the top of its Facebook page, asking for anyone with a tip to call 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).

Police also said behavior analysts from FBI were going to assist in the investigation.

Villaseñor said officers are continuing their search of the city landfill. He said a cadaver dog was not a part of that search because the smells would be overwhelming.

Earlier in the day police said the Celis family was allowed to return to their Tucson home on today, a day after police searched for clues at the home.

Day 4: Police scrutinize investigation of missing Tucson girl

8:30 a.m. — (From the news briefing at 8 a.m. today) The news briefing this morning in the case of missing Tucson girl was notable for the lack of new information provided about the search on the fourth day of the investigation.

Sgt. Marco Borboa said he did not know if Isabel Mercedes Celis, who the family says was last seen when she was put to bed about 11 p.m. Friday, went to school that day.

Similarly, Borboa confirmed the family has “several” dogs that were in the house Friday night, but he would not say whether the family said they were barking the night of the reported intrusion into the midtown home near East Broadway and South Craycroft Road. He would not say how many dogs nor their breed.

He would not say if any leads were developed from watching surveillance footage collected from cameras in the area.

Two search warrants have been served on the house and another on a family vehicle, Borboa said. The family can return to the home, but security is a concern.

Neighbors had not reported unusual activity near the family home before Isabel was reported missing, he said.

Police and the family have maintained an “open dialogue” throughout the investigation so far, Borboa said.

Some 100 new leads have been made to police each day of the investigation, but only two were reports of people saying they saw Isabel. Neither checked out.

Police this morning were combing over the investigation so far, reviewing interviews and the steps taken to try to find Isabel, Borboa said.

Tucson police plan to hold a news conference every two hours.

Tuesday's headline: Police still holding hope Isabel can be found alive

Authorities searched Monday in neighborhoods, sifted through trash in a landfill and questioned registered sex offenders as part of the investigation into a 6-year-old girl who went missing from her midtown home.

The search focused on a three-mile radius around Isabel Mercedes Celis' home. The first-grader was reported missing Saturday morning by her father when he went to wake her up in her room, police said.

The window to her bedroom was open and the screen was off when officers first went to the house in the 5600 block of East 12th Street, near East Broadway and Craycroft Road.

Thousands of fliers with the young girl's picture on them have been distributed throughout Tucson and on the Internet through several Facebook and Twitter pages.

Tucson police Chief Roberto Villaseñor said the search has become a multiagency effort.

"Our main focus is finding Isabel and bringing her home safely," he said Monday afternoon at one of the press briefings given throughout the day.

Authorities were searching the Los Reales Landfill, about seven miles south of the Celis' home, said Lt. Fabian Pacheco, a police spokesman.

Villaseñor said the landfill search was based on the fact that there was a garbage pickup in the neighborhood Saturday morning before officers were able to search the area. Police determined where the trash was sent and secured the area within the landfill.

"This is normal protocol," Villaseñor said. "We don't know what we are dealing with. We can't leave that stone unturned."

He said the landfill search will resume this morning.

Authorities have been following up on more than 100 leads, Villaseñor said. Most of those leads - including several purported sightings - have been investigated, he said.

"Race against the clock"

The family of Isabel, known as "Isa," told police the child went to bed at 11 p.m. Friday, and when her father went to wake her up at 8 a.m. Saturday she was gone. The family did a quick search before calling 911 to report her missing.

"This has been a race against the clock since minute one. ... Obviously, the quicker you can get there the quicker you can locate things and follow things up, and usually you have more success," Villaseñor said. "Every hour that goes by is troublesome to us."

Villaseñor said Isabel's mother had left the house for work Saturday morning before anyone checked on the girl. The mother was called at her workplace, Tucson Medical Center, by Isabel's father and told that their daughter was missing, the chief said.

Other information police released Monday:

• Police have contacted businesses surrounding the neighborhood to view surveillance footage, but have not found anything pertinent to the investigation.

• There are 17 registered sex offenders living in a three-mile radius of her home and authorities have interviewed all of them.

• Isabel's family was not allowed to spend Saturday night or Sunday night in their home. Villaseñor said the family has been questioned extensively and they are cooperating with the investigation.

The Police Department obtained two search warrants for the Celis home, Villaseñor said. He said obtaining the warrants is crucial to conducting a proper investigation.

A second search warrant was obtained after FBI dogs - one an expert at detecting unknown scents, and the other cadavers - "alerted on some things in the house," Villaseñor said. He did not specify which dog alerted to what in the house.

• Border Patrol agents are assisting in the search. They are being used because of their expertise in searching desert areas and washes. The U.S. Marshals Service is also helping, as is the FBI.

• Villaseñor said nobody has been ruled out in the investigation. "Right now everyone involved is a person of interest for us," he said.

• Investigators are looking at whether the open bedroom window was a "point of entry."

"It's a potential point of entry. We're not saying that it was the point of entry," Villaseñor told the Star.

Reward will be offered

Police continue to label the case as suspicious and a possible abduction.

"We have every hope we'll find Isabel alive, and bring her back to her family," said police Lt. Matt Ronstadt during an evening briefing. "This is currently a search for a missing child, a missing girl."

An anonymous donor and 88-CRIME will offer a reward for information, Ronstadt said, but he didn't know the dollar amount.

Police have not released the names of Isabel's parents, saying they are considered victims. Friends have identified them as Rebecca and Sergio Celis. In addition to Isabel, the couple has two older sons. The family also has pet dogs, the chief said.

Family called "very close"

Neighbors described the Celis family as tight-knit and friendly to neighbors, pausing to say hello or chat while walking down the block.

"They're very close they're very loving, always with their kids," said David Pike, who lives on the same block as the family. "We would see them walking up and down the street with their kids, riding bicycles with their boys. Mom was always with the little girl."

Isabel was never seen without her family, Pike said. "I never seen her wandering around ... by herself. She was attached to Mom or Dad or the boys."

The Celis family moved into the neighborhood about four or five years ago to be close to Isabel's grandmother who suffered a stroke, he said.

Pike's 16-year-old son, Chris, helped one of Isabel's older brothers search the neighborhood when she was first noticed missing.

"I asked him what's wrong and he said his sister was gone and I said 'I'll go help you.' I looked around the whole neighborhood and the park," Chris Pike said. "There was a few times when he just fell to the ground and started crying and I never really thought I'd see him cry."

Isabel attends the Academy of Tucson's elementary school, and her brothers attend the academy's middle and high schools.

Family, friends and volunteers had posted more than 10,000 fliers with pictures of Isabel across the city by Sunday morning. Several websites and Facebook pages were created to draw attention to her.

Family statement

The family of Isabel Celis released this written statement Monday:

"We appreciate everyone's interest in finding our daughter, Isabel, and thank all the volunteers who have come out to search for her. We are cooperating fully with authorities, and are focused only on her safe return. We appreciate all your energy and efforts and continue to need the community's help. Please call TPD if you have any information. We love Isabel and will never give up finding her. Thank you for all your support."

How to help

Anyone with information on this case can call 911 or 88-CRIME.

About Isabel Celis

Isabel stands about 44 inches tall and weighs about 44 pounds. Her hair is light brown and her eyes are hazel. She is missing two of her front teeth. She was last seen with her hair braided into two braids. No information was available about the clothes she was wearing.

Kimberly Matas contributed to this report. To contact reporters: Veronica Cruz, vcruz@azstarnet.com, 573-4224; Carmen Duarte, cduarte@azstarnet.com, 573-4104.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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