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Reservation in shock over killings
Investigators spent the latter part of Monday morning at the crime scene of a shooting rampage that left five people dead and two children seriously wounded Saturday night on the Tule River Reservation.
The suspect died after a shootout with detectives and after taking the life of four of his relatives, including his 8-year-old daughter Alyssa Celaya, the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department said.
The sheriff’s department said that 31-year-old Hector Celaya also shot and killed his mother Irene Celaya, 60, and his uncles Francisco Moreno, 61, and Bernard Franco, also known as Bernard Moreno, 53, all residents of the reservation.
Authorities said that Hector Celaya also shot his 5-year-old daughter Linea Celaya and his 6-year-old son Andrew Celaya. As of Tuesday afternoon, Linea was listed in serious condition and Andrew in critical condition, said Mary Lisa Russell, spokeswoman for Community Regional Medical Center, Fresno.
The Tulare County Sheriff’s Department received a 911 call at 7:47 p.m. Saturday reporting shots fired in the 100 block of Chimney Road on the reservation. The caller told authorities that the shooter fled the scene in a green Jeep Grand Cherokee.
When deputies arrived on scene they found the bodies of Irene Celaya and Francisco Moreno and found Andrew Celaya suffering from a gunshot wound in a trailer. They also found the body of Bernard Franco inside a shed on the same property.
What prompted the man to kill his family is unknown, authorities said. The only thing law enforcement has said about Celaya’s past is that he was known to them and he was a known to use drugs.
News of the shooting quickly spread among the residents of the tight-knit community and many gathered that night as the gruesome investigation began.
Authorities issued an Amber Alert around 11 p.m. Saturday, after the same person who made the 911 call reported Celaya had fled with the two girls.
Detectives were able to use Celaya’s cell phone to track him and early Sunday morning, a deputy spotted the green Jeep Grand Cherokee in the area of Avenue 220 and Road 254, northeast of Strathmore. The deputy attempted to conduct a traffic stop but Celaya did not yield. A pursuit ensued, staying below normal speeds, at times less than 15 mph. Celaya then drove west on Avenue 256 from Burr Drive east of Exeter and stopped on the side of the road at 1:48 a.m. Celaya reportedly exchanged gunfire with detectives, the sheriff’s department said. It was unclear whether Celaya was shot by the officers or if he shot himself, but he later died from his injuries. The officers involved have been placed on paid administrative leave.
Detectives later learned Celaya had shot his two daughters, who were in the car and where rushed to area hospitals, the sheriff’s department said.
On Monday, members of the Tule River Tribal Council were advised not to speak to the press, and later issued a news release stating that the council and tribal membership were in a state of shock and disbelief over the tragic incident, calling it a “senseless loss of life.”
“I am deeply saddened by this heartbreaking tragedy. This has been one of the most horrific losses our community has ever faced and we will begin the healing process by holding a candlelight vigil for the victims throughout the week,” Tribal Council Chairman Neil Peyron said.
According to the statement, Hector Celaya, Bernard Moreno, and Hector Celaya were not tribal members, though they did live on the reservation and were members of the community. According to Hector Celaya’s Facebook page, he is an Orange Cove native and a 1999 graduate of Reedley High School.
The children involved and Frank Moreno were enrolled members of the Tule River Tribe.
John Snavely, Porterville Unified School District superintendent, said that while none of the children involved attended Porterville schools, the loss has impacted the entire community.
“It’s an incredibly unfortunate incident and it’s just always sad because it impacts so many people; not only those involved but also those family members and friends and everyone that knew of the students,” he said. “It’s quite devastating. We’re deeply saddened whenever we hear something like this.”
He said there are some students at PUSD campuses who know the children involved.
“We had psychologists at all three sites where we may have had students attend schools and those are Vandalia, Pioneer, and Porterville High School. We have resources available for anyone that may have a need,” Snavely said.
Porterville Mayor Virginia Gurrola said she feels for her neighbors.
“I’m really at a loss for words for the tragedy that occurred at the reservation. You hear about incidents like this and you read about them in the papers but when it happens to our neighbors, I’m just saddened,” she said. “There are just no words but my prayers are with them and the tribal community.”
The Tribal Council’s statement asks that the victims be remembered in prayer.
“The Tribe hopes that an immediate investigation will shed light on the causes of this senseless act,” the news release states.
No information has been released regarding funeral arrangements.
Contact Denise Madrid at 784-5000, Ext. 1047. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseMadrid_.