Police search desert north of D-M for evidence in Celis case

Isabel's two brothers with mom; father has agreed to stay away
2012-05-15T13:23:00Z 2012-05-30T13:43:26Z Police search desert north of D-M for evidence in Celis caseCarmen Duarte and Veronica M. Cruz Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Tucson police and sheriff’s deputies are searching the desert north of Davis Monthan Air Force Base for anything of “evidentiary value” related to the Isabel Celis case.

The search team composed of around 25 officers and deputies and two K-9s have been scouring the area on the northern side of Golf Links Road for several hours and were expected to wrap up the search shortly, said Sgt. Maria Hawke, a Tucson police spokeswoman.

Police have searched the area before and have continued searches of different areas around town throughout the investigation, Hawke said.

“It’s not anything out of the ordinary that they’re doing,” she said. “They have been consistently re-searching areas as information has developed.”

Some areas have been searched as many as four or five times, she said.

“It’s something we revisit consistently and we will continue to do so as we conduct the investigation,” Hawke said.

She could not comment on specifically what information lead officers to this particular area again.

Isabel was abducted, police said

Isabel Mercedes Celis was taken from her midtown home by someone three weeks ago, said Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor — confirming for the first time that the case is an abduction.

"Someone played a part in her disappearance," Villaseñor said in an interview with the Star. "Some person is responsible for Isabel's disappearance. Isabel did not just wander off."

For weeks, police have labeled the case a "suspicious disappearance" and "possible" abduction.

The chief also said the 6-year-old's parents, Sergio and Becky Celis, have still not been ruled out as suspects.

Investigators are in daily contact with the parents, but the relationship has become "much more strained now," Villaseñor said. "They are frustrated."

The chief said the parents are being asked "very pointed questions now."

Also on Monday during a news briefing:

• Villaseñor said Sergio Celis voluntarily entered into an agreement with Child Protective Services to not make contact with his two sons, 14-year-old Sergio and 10-year-old Julian.

This happened after detectives developed information pertaining to the welfare of the boys and shared it with CPS. Villaseñor would not elaborate on the information developed by detectives.

CPS and investigators met with Isabel's parents on Thursday, and the decision for Sergio Celis to stay away from his sons was made Friday.

The boys are now staying with their mother, Villaseñor said.

CPS has been involved with the case since Isabel was reported missing on April 21, which is a common practice in missing-children cases, Villaseñor said.

• The audiotapes and transcripts of the 911 calls made the morning Isabel was reported missing were released.

In one recording, Sergio Celis tells a dispatcher he believes his daughter was abducted.

He says that he and his sons "looked everywhere in the house, and my oldest son noticed that her window was wide open and the screen was laying in the backyard."

The dispatcher asks Celis if Isabel's mother was home. "Uh, she had just left for work; I just called her and I told her to get her butt home," he replies, chuckling, according to the transcript.

The father remains calm as he tells the dispatcher that the family arrived home the night before at about 10:30.

"Everyone took their showers and they all went to bed. I even was in the living room watching, uh, the Diamondbacks game at midnight. ... And I fell asleep and I never heard anything weird. So I was like just on the ... other side of the wall from her."

In another recording in a 911 call made by a neighbor, the older son, also named Sergio, who began looking for his sister in the neighborhood, says that his sister's gone, and that "someone broke in and grabbed her."

When Isabel's mother, Becky Celis, arrives home, she tells 911, "She's only six, can you please hurry and get somebody over here."

She says her husband discovered the disappearance. "I went to work this morning at seven and um, I just, and I didn't even come and check on her. I should have come and checked on her."

She cries out "oh my God" several times during the call. The dispatcher asks her to take a deep breath, adding: "I do understand how hard that is. I just need you to calm down a little bit, okay?"

Later, in response to questions, the mother says, "Other than the window out, I can't see anything else. And the door is locked to outside, so they had to have jumped over the fence or, I don't know what they did, but oh my God ..."

• During an interview, Villaseñor told the Star:

"We have eliminated some family members as suspects, and we have eliminated a lot of the sex offenders in the area" of the family's home in the 5600 block of East 12th Street.

"We haven't gone down only one path in our investigation," Villaseñor said, explaining that detectives are looking at "external" leads that are away from the family, and "internal" leads - family members or people known to the family.

More than 1,000 leads have been reported to police, and at one point about 250 law enforcement officers from local, state and federal agencies were involved in Isabel's search.

Now, some 20 investigators and 30 support staff members are working the case daily, police said.

The cost on this case has topped $1 million, including $250,000 in overtime costs.

The 88-CRIME reward for information leading to an arrest in Isabel's disappearance has been increased to $50,500, of which $49,500 is from private donations.

Excerpt from father's 911 call

Here's an excerpt from the call to 911 by Sergio Celis reporting his daughter had disappeared:

Dispatcher: Tucson Police Department.

Sergio Celis: Hello, I need to report a uh, missing child. I believe she was abducted from my house.

D: Why do you think she was abducted?

SC: I have no idea. We woke up this morning and went to go get her up, start her baseball game and she's gone. I woke up my, my sons, I, we looked everywhere in the house, and my oldest son noticed that her window was wide open and the screen was laying in the backyard. We've looked all around the house, my son ...

After getting names and an address:

D: OK. Is mom there also?

SC: Uh, she had just left for work, I just called her and I told her to get her butt home (chuckles).

After getting a description of Isabel, the dispatcher asks Sergio about anything unusual happening.

D: Have you guys ... been having any weird phone calls, anything like that, somebody hanging around?

SC: No. We got home late from uh, my son's baseball game. You know, about 10:30 last night. Everyone took their showers and they all went to bed. I even was in the living room watching uh, the Diamondbacks game at midnight. ... And I fell asleep and I never heard anything weird. So I was like just on the ... other side of the wall from her.

Later, Sergio Celis is asked about the family situation, including if he and his wife are Isabel's biological parents:

D: OK. So no, no stepparents, any, any problems with any grandparents?

SC: No.

D: OK. So you are not having any family issues, anything like that?

SC: No.

D: OK. And you haven't noticed anybody hanging out in front of your house?

SC: No.

Source: Tucson Police Department

Contact reporters Carmen Duarte at 573-4104 or cduarte@azstarnet.com or Veronica M. Cruz at vcruz@azstarnet.com or 573-4224.

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

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