A FEARFUL TIME FOR TUCSON FAMILIES

Day 5: Isabel's dad: 'We'll never give up looking for you'

2012-04-25T00:00:00Z 2013-09-10T17:14:32Z Day 5: Isabel's dad: 'We'll never give up looking for you'By Carmen Duarte, Veronica M. Cruz and Tim Steller, Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

8:15 p.m. — The FBI behavioral analysts helping in the case of missing 6-year-old Isabel Mercedes Celis will start Thursday to review the interviews already conducted by Tucson police, police said in a news briefing tonight.

The FBI analysts “may or may not” interview Isabel’s parents themselves, police added. 

Also, police said there might have been some houses within their 3-mile search radius around the Celis' midtown home that they missed, because no one was home or didn't answer the door, for example. Police ask that anyone living in that area who hasn't been contacted by a police officer call 88-CRIME. The Celis' home is in the 5600 block of East 12th Street, near East Broadway and Craycroft Road. 

2 p.m. — Through tears and trembling, the parents of Isabel Mercedes Celis pleaded for her safe return.

Becky Celis read from a piece of paper, asking the community to keep its focus on finding her daughter.

“Tell us your demands,” Isabel’s father, Sergio, said moments later. “Tell us what you want.”

He then made an emotional statement directly to the missing 6-year-old: “We'll never give up looking for you.”

He also said the family was cooperating with police and plans to increase the amount of the reward money.

The entire statement lasted some five minutes and was made in English and Spanish.

The parents were surrounded by volunteers in white T-shirts with “Bring Isa Home” written on the front and a photo of Isabel on the back. The parents also wore such T-shirts, and rosaries.

Police escorted the parents away after their statements.

Isabel’s family had only issued one written statement since her disappearance, to thank volunteers for their support in trying to find Isabel.

The family has told police the last time the first-grader was seen was in her bedroom Friday night.

Police have labeled Isabel’s case a suspicious disappearance and possible abduction.

Day 5: Parents of missing Tucson girl to hold news conference

Noon — The family of a missing Tucson girl will make its first public statement this afternoon.

The family has not been available to media since Isabel Mercedes Celis was reported missing Saturday morning.

The Celis family will have a news conference at the volunteer tent near the police staging area  at 2 p.m., Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor said at a noon news briefing near the Celis family home. The staging area is near Broadway and South Craycroft Road.

The next police update on the search for Isabel will be at 4 p.m. at the Hardesty Substation, 1100 S. Alvernon Way.

Villaseñor said Isabel’s parents, Sergio and Becky Celis, will be speaking at the news conference. He said police are facilitating the news conference at the family’s request.

Villaseñor said officers are reviewing surveillance video from cameras near the home, but he would not say if they have provided any clues to Isabel’s disappearance.

Also, more than 100,000 fliers with Isabel’s picture on them have been distributed since Saturday, said Valerie Ballesteros, who works at Tucson Medical Center with Isabel’s mother.

She said a billboard with her picture was put up in the Phoenix area along Interstate 10. The billboard was donated. Other billboards are being considered on I-10 near Orange Grove Road and on I-19 near Nogales.

Banners with her picture have also been put up around Tucson and community search organizers are ordering T-shirts and buttons with her photo on them to pass out.

Ballesteros said the search items are being bought with donations of money and services from local businesses.

Day 5: Tucson police search for Isabel in washes  

7:30 a.m. — Tucson police Chief Roberto Villaseñor announced at a press briefing this morning that a scaled down search of missing 6-year-old girl Isabel Celis will focus mostly on areas such as washes and drainage areas.

“It means that we’re not gonna take any chance in overlooking anything,” he said.

Authorities completed another search warrant on the Celis home in the 5600 block of East 12th Street about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, allowing behavioral analysts from the FBI to take a look at the home, Villaseñor said.

“I’m hoping they saw things differently,” he said.

Villaseñor also added that he does not believe Isabel walked away from her home. Police don’t believe she has been taken out of state.

Today: Parents try to find words to talk about missing girl   

The alarm is set, and the house is locked up.

The dogs are loose.

And the parents' doors are open so they can hear any sound from their kids' rooms - if the kids haven't jumped in the parents' bed already.

The disappearance of 6-year-old Isabel Celis has sparked a wave of worry in many Tucson-area homes that crops up especially at bedtime. The news - spread through newscasts, fliers and school conversations - also has young kids posing some hard questions about the girl's unexplained disappearance from her midtown home.

The story, as related by Isabel's family to police, raises natural fear in families: Isabel went to sleep in her room Friday night and when her father went in to wake her Saturday morning, she was gone.

"My 5-year-old daughter told me last night 'Mommy I think it's safer for me to sleep with you because I don't want anyone to take me, and I wish our house didn't have any windows,' " Tucsonan Lorraine Young said via Facebook. "She slept with me holding my hand."

The story has also touched a deep fear in parents.

"It's put parents on high alert," said Kim Metz, executive director of The Parent Connection, an education and support center for parents at 5326 E. Pima St.

Dawn Ridgway's 6-year-old daughter asked to sleep in Ridgway's room, but Ridgway just stayed with her till she slept, she said. "It's not just her," said Ridgway, who has volunteered this week passing out missing-person fliers. "Myself, I can't sleep."

Jennifer Eason's family was at Freedom Park along with the Celis family Friday night for Little League, the night before Isabel went missing.

"My kids were playing in the dark while I was sitting on the bleachers watching the game. That is not going to happen again," Eason said. "I let them walk to the bathroom by themselves. That is not going to happen again. When we go to Target, I let the boys go into the boys' toy section and I let my daughter go into the girls' section, and I stand in the middle. That is not going to happen again. You can't take safety for granted."

The issue became impossible to ignore for Lynn Davis' family Monday when police went door to door on her family's block, near Isabel's home. That prompted her 9-year-old to ask about what happened, forcing Davis and her husband into a tough situation: "How do you make this a teachable moment for your kid without causing them undue anxiety?" she said.

Many parents reported using the incident to talk with their kids about "stranger danger." But the applicability of that lesson isn't clear, since nobody knows whether a stranger is responsible for Isabel's disappearance.

Instead, parents should teach their kids to be assertive with adults who are making them uncomfortable, said Bob Lowery, executive director of the missing-children division of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. That's because adult strangers are only a portion, probably small, of the likely victimizers of children.

"Those children who kick and scream and try to draw attention to themselves, they're the ones who will get away," Lowery said.

In a given year in the United States, Lowery said, there are about 110 abductions of children by a stranger, a small portion of those from the child's home. That compares to about 58,000 abductions per year of children by people whom they know, he said.

Still, the fear of stranger abductions lies dormant inside many Tucsonans. They recall the 1996 disappearance of 7-year-old Karen Grajeda, who never was found, or the 1986 murder of 2-year-old Zosha Lee Pickett.

Metz, of The Parent Connection, says parents should minimize kids' exposure to news stories about Isabel but should speak openly with them about it. Tucson children are finding out about it one way or another, she said.

"Our children actually feel safer when they know that their parents are upset or worried or concerned about something that happened to other children," Metz said.

Parents can acknowledge that terrible things sometimes happen to children while at the same time telling the kids how they're being kept safe, Metz said. They should assure kids, "We love you, we're going to protect you, and we're going to be extra vigilant."

How to help

Anyone with information can call 911 or 88-CRIME (882-7463).

Contact reporter Tim Steller at tsteller@azstarnet.com or 807-8427.

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

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