One couldn’t help but notice the purple shirts and dresses scattered among the crowd of nearly 500 seated in pews at Isabel Celis’ funeral Mass on Saturday morning.

Purple was Isabel’s favorite color.

At the front of St. Augustine Cathedral, an easel displayed two pictures of Isabel, first as a baby and the second the familiar photo of her smiling face that was widely circulated after the 6-year-old girl went missing in 2012.

Ushers handed attendees a prayer card that listed the date of her death as March 3, 2017, a few weeks before Tucson police announced that her remains had been found in a rural area of Pima County.

A Mariachi band played during the processional and throughout the service, between speakers and Scripture readings by Isabel’s older brothers, Sergio and Julian.

Visiting clergy spoke at the beginning of the Mass, saying that Isabel had been “called from God in a very unnatural and tragic way,” but the majority of the service focused on her laughter and the childhood innocence that was taken too soon.

“In silence we will hear the voice of Isa, her giggles and her laughter,” said Father Miguel Mariano. “In silence we will find answers.”

Children should be playing sports, drawing and learning how to dance and Isabel only had a limited time to do those things, Mariano said, adding that the community will continue to wonder who was responsible for her death, why and when.

“Isabel, please accept our apologies to you, that we were not able to secure and safeguard your life,” Mariano said. “Rest now Isabel, until we meet again. Adios, adios Isabel.”

Isabel’s parents, Becky and Sergio stood at the pulpit at the end of the service, thanking the community, family and friends who had stood by the family’s side since the beginning.

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“We will never be able to thank you enough,” Becky said, asking the crowd to remember her baby girl as happy and playing, instead of reflecting on the way she was taken.

As the crowd streamed out of the church, the Mariachi band played “When You Wish Upon a Star,” a last minute change that the band practiced quietly outside of the church during a break in the service.

Mourners gathered in a courtyard area and released pink and purple balloons into the clear, blue sky with the sun shining down from above.

“I have an idea,” said a girl who couldn’t have been much older than Isabel was at the time of her disappearance. She looked up at her mother, smiling sweetly.

“Let’s call this Isabel’s anniversary instead.”

Contact reporter Caitlin Schmidt at or 573-4191. Twitter: @caitlinschmidt

Caitlin is a watchdog reporter covering local government, the University of Arizona and sports investigations. She graduated from the UA's journalism school in 2014 and has won a dozen state awards for investigative and public records-based reporting.