Small Calif. tribe prepares to bury 5 from rampage
- Article by: TRACIE CONE
- Associated Press
- December 11, 2012 - 2:30 AM
PORTERVILLE, Calif. - Hector Celaya had the name of his 8-year-old daughter, Alyssa, tattooed on his right leg. She and her younger sister were found shot and wounded in a car that their father attempted to flee as officers surrounded them, authorities said.
Alyssa died from her injuries on Sunday, the same day her father died after being wounded a shootout with Tulare County sheriff's deputies. On Monday, hers was the first grave being prepared at the Tule River Indian Reservation cemetery, where four more will be dug later this week.
Authorities say that over the weekend, the 31-year-old Celaya opened fire on his family, killing his mother, two uncles and Alyssa, and seriously wounding his 6-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter.
The violence has shaken this peace-preaching tribe, which teaches its members that love for family is above all.
Murder is unheard of, said Mike Blain, chief of the Tule reservation's 4-year-old police department. He was at a loss to say what prompted the violence.
Court records show that Celaya had a criminal history that included stints in jail. The former reservation casino custodian was facing the prospect of returning to jail after recent arrests for alleged drunken driving and drugs, the Fresno Bee reported ( http://bit.ly/S135Pv) Monday.
He had been due in court in January to face those charges, which could have carried up to a year in jail, the newspaper said.
Investigators were still searching for a motive in the rampage that started Saturday, and Blain said his department would work on helping the tightknit community of about 800 heal.
"We needed to go back and find what brought us to this. Did we miss something? Did the community or family miss something?" he said from his office in a doublewide modular home. "Going forward, we need to identify what happened, so we can identify it in the future."
The Tulare County sheriff's department investigates serious crimes on the reservation, and Blain's four officers deal with crimes committed against the tribe such as poaching and timber theft.
The department's only serious dealing with Hector Celaya was an April call from his children's mother, who accused him of driving while intoxicated with the children in the car. Blain said the accusation was unfounded and part of a "child custody dispute."
He referred the case to the tribe's version of Child Protective Services. What happened from there is private.
The Tule reservation spreads across 56,000 acres in California's Central Valley. The area about 20 miles east of Porterville rises to an elevation of 7,500 feet in the Sierra Nevada, and its steep and winding roads make travel slow.
Modular homes and trailers are built onto hillsides that overlook the Tule River canyon, whose thick sycamore trees are awash in yellow and orange. On grassy hillsides, herds of paint horses graze alongside the occasional steer.
"The community is a peaceful one, and the tribe tries to teach children to be nonviolent," said Rhoda Hunter, the tribal council secretary. "We teach our children to not even kill insects. The battle between good and evil is there. Bad is always going to be there. I tell my grandkids that. I tell them to work for good."
Hunter said Celaya's mother was a friend of hers. The sheriff's department, which is investigating the case, identified her as 60-year-old Irene Celaya.
Hunter said Irene took care of her brothers and extended family.
"She was always a positive person," Hunter said. "Every time I saw her, she gave me a big hug. She was a positive person no matter what situation she was in."
Tribal members said her son, a former custodian at the reservation's Eagle Mountain casino, had a troubled past.
Court records show Celaya was arrested in October and charged in December with two misdemeanor counts of DUI with a prior conviction for the same offense, for which he faced 90 days to a year in jail. He was also charged with misdemeanor drug use, punishable by a year in jail, according to The Fresno Bee. He was due in Tulare County Superior Court on Jan. 22 to enter a plea on the drug charge.
Celaya served jail time in 2008 on an assault and battery charge, to which he pleaded no contest. He was in jail again in 2009 after pleading no contest to a DUI charge. In 2002, when he was 20, he pleaded no contest to DUI, paid a fine and was sentenced to an alcohol awareness program.
Police say Celaya opened fire in a travel trailer on the reservation Saturday night, killing Irene Celaya and two uncles. The body of Francisco Moreno, 61, was found in the trailer with Irene's, and the body of their 53-year-old brother, Bernard Franco, was in a shed that was a makeshift bedroom.
Celaya seriously wounded his 6-year-old son Andrew, then took with him Alyssa and 5-year-old Linea, police said. Sheriff's spokeswoman Chris Douglass said it was unclear when Celaya shot his daughters.
Linea remained hospitalized in serious condition and Andrew in critical condition with life-threatening injuries, authorities said.
Meanwhile at the reservation cemetery, gravediggers worked the old-fashioned way, chipping at the hard pan by hand with pickaxes and shoveling the dirt aside.
They said it was a sign of respect not to use machinery, but never has the crew had to dig so many graves at one time.
Reach Tracie Cone at http://www.twitter.com/TConeAP.
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