Nearly five years after she disappeared, Tucson police announced Friday that the remains of Isabel Celis were found in a rural area of Pima County.
Police Chief Chris Magnus made the grim announcement that the remains were found earlier this month and were positively identified by DNA testing as those of Isabel, who was 6 years old when she went missing from her midtown home in 2012.
Magnus said no arrests have been made.
He said during a news conference the circumstances of police finding the remains were “not happenstance.” Magnus would not discuss details of how investigators found the remains, saying he couldn’t “be more detailed about how we got to that location.”
Investigators used an independent lab — Bode Cellmark Forensics in Lorton, Virginia — that was capable of doing extensive DNA testing, Magnus said.
“Now, although this confirmation may bring some degree of closure, of course it also ends the hope of bringing Isabel home safely to her family,” said the police chief, mentioning that investigators persevered in working the case and all were hoping that Isabel would be found alive.
Magnus expressed the department’s “deepest sympathies” to Isabel’s family. “The death of any child is a loss to the family and to our entire community,” he said.
After the news conference, Tucson Medical Center — where Isabel’s mother, Becky Celis, is a nurse — issued a statement on behalf of the family:
“We want to thank the community for the support they have continued to show for Isa over the years and for refusing to give up hope. Now is our time to mourn. We ask for our privacy during this time so that we can do that.”
Judy Rich, TMC’s president and chief executive officer, said: “This is not the news we had hoped to hear. Becky has been a member of the TMC family for many years, and our hearts grieve for Isa and her family.”
The police chief said investigators “will continue to actively pursue those responsible for any kind of involvement in Isabel’s death and disappearance.” Magnus said detectives are working this case “very aggressively.”
Isabel’s disappearance from her family’s home resulted in a missing child case that involved a massive search in Tucson by 250 law enforcement personnel, national media attention and public scrutiny of her parents. FBI experts and tracking dogs were called into the case.
Magnus urged anyone with information to call 88-CRIME (882-7463), the anonymous tip line.
Detectives followed up on more than 2,200 leads in the case, he said.
Isabel went missing from her bedroom in her family’s midtown home five years ago. It was during the night, while the family slept. No one heard sounds, not even from the family’s dogs. Her father, Sergio, reported her missing on the morning of April 21, 2012. Her mother had already left for work.
Sergio said he and his sons searched the house before calling 911. In a 911 recording, Sergio, tells a dispatcher that “my oldest son noticed that her window was wide open and the screen was laying in the backyard.”
For many years, the Celis family’s house near Park Place had a banner displayed with the face of Isabel pictured smiling with long brown hair and hazel eyes. Other banners and billboards informed the public about a reward.
The family attended St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, 215 S. Craycroft Road. Many prayer vigils were held for Isabel’s safe return.
On Friday evening, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson issued a statement saying, “Our hearts are broken and our prayers go out to Isabel’s family. My fondest hope was that she was alive and would be returned to her family. Today’s news is so upsetting and I hope whoever committed this heinous act will be brought to justice.”
The case remained opened with police investigators conducting numerous follow up interviews, re-canvassing the family’s neighborhood and periodically asking the public’s help for information.
Investigators worked tips across the country and in Mexico. Tips that poured in at first, dropped to a trickle then stopped. New detectives were assigned to the case several years later to offer fresh eyes. The department’s website still has information and images of Isabel with a link to provide tips.
Her parents faced intense public scrutiny in the weeks after their daughter went missing. At one point, Sergio entered into an agreement with state child protective services that he would not have contact for a period of time with his two sons, Isabel’s older brothers.
Becky said in an interview several years ago they all were coping because of the support from their family, faith in God and the love they each have for one another.
“God is listening to us. We just have to be patient. We have to have faith in God. God has a plan, and eventually he will bring her home,” said Becky.
For Sergio, an oral surgery assistant at a dental office who also performs opera, the not knowing about his little girl was creating “a lot of frustration, a lot of anger, a lot of wanting to shake your fists and constantly saying why, and why and why.”
‘A loss to the family and to our entire community’ Chris Magnus, Tucson police chief
Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4104. On Twitter: @cduartestar