Suspicion over 'entry point' in Tucson girl search

TERRY TANG Associated Press Published:

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -- Investigators found "suspicious circumstances around a possible entry point" at the home of a 6-year-old Arizona girl whose disappearance has prompted a massive search, with more than 150 law enforcement officers trying to figure out whether she was abducted, a police spokeswoman said Sunday.

Tucson police Sgt. Maria Hawke wouldn't comment Sunday on whether the entry point was a bedroom window or a door. But family friend Mary Littlehorn said she heard from others close to the family that a window screen in the girl's bedroom had been knocked down.

The parents of first-grader Isabel Mercedes Celis have said they last saw her in her bedroom at 11 p.m. Friday, according to Hawke. She was discovered missing at about 8 a.m. Saturday, and the parents phoned 911 minutes later.

Officers kept the whole neighborhood block where Isabel lives cordoned off for a second day and fanned out over a wide area looking for clues to the possible kidnapping. A fourth search of a three-mile radius around the home was completed Sunday afternoon in temperatures that reached the high-90s, police Lt. Fabian Pacheco said at a Sunday evening news conference.

Pacheco wouldn't comment on the suspicious "entry point," saying: "I don't want to compromise anything."

Earlier Sunday, Tucson police chief Roberto Villasenor said officers had served at least two search warrants. The girl's parents, identified by friends as Becky and Sergio Celis, were helpful as police worked to find their youngest child, he said. He said police were still classifying the case as a "suspicious disappearance/possible abduction."

"We're not ruling anything out of the investigation at this point because we really need to keep our mind open about all the information that's been brought to us," Villasenor said. "The family has been cooperating with us."

Littlehorn, who gathered Sunday with other family friends at a police command post, said authorities separated the two parents for hours Saturday as they questioned them. She said it was difficult for them knowing their little girl was out there somewhere.

"She hasn't been allowed to help look for her daughter," Littlehorn said of Becky Celis.

Littlehorn has worked with Becky Celis as a registered nurse at Tucson Medical Center for five years. She said Isabel, whose nickname is Isa, loved to play baseball and dance; the girl was supposed to play in a baseball game Saturday.

"She's just the sweetest, she is feisty, she's full of life and spirit," Littlehorn said.

She said Becky Celis is a registered nurse in the pediatrics unit and Sergio Celis is a dental hygienist. There's no way anyone in the family is involved in the disappearance, she said.

"We all feel this is somebody who's been watching Isa for some amount of time to know where her bedroom is," Littlehorn said.

Investigators were looking into various scenarios, including the possibility that Isabel wandered out of the home she shares with her parents and two brothers. Hawke said Sunday the wandering off theory was becoming less likely as time passed.

Pacheco said the FBI was flying in a search dog from its Virginia headquarters that is more experienced and trained in conducting urban searches. Authorities said they have also started the process of checking on the whereabouts of sex offenders in the area. They said talking with them was standard procedure.

Volunteers have been posting fliers of the girl -- who is described as about 4-feet-tall with brown hair and hazel eyes -- in gas stations, malls and fast food restaurants that included a photo of Isabel holding up a school achievement award.

More than 200 people attended a Sunday evening vigil in an empty parking lot near the family home.

Ron Redondo, whose 14-year-old daughter goes to school with Isabel's older brother, said he wants his kids to not take safety for granted.

"We don't know who's out there right now. We don't know if this was a random act or somebody's out there looking for kids."

Erin Cowan, who has worked with Isabel's mom at Tucson Medical Center, brought her 7-year-old daughter. She said it has definitely been on her mind that her daughter is close in age to Isabel.

"I put two by fours in their windows this morning," said Cowan, who also has a 12-year-old son. "I guess you can't be too careful, sadly."

At St. Joseph Parish on Sunday morning, the parents and their two sons attended an early Mass, and deacon Leon Mazza described the parents as "very upset."

"We didn't ask for any information. We just let them know if they need help, come see us," Mazza said.

Parish priest Miguel Mariano said the family regularly attends Mass and said he asked the parents if they needed any help from the congregation. "And then they said, 'No, Father, just prayers,'" Mariano said.

The couple hurried off, saying they were going to meet with police.

The Catholic church and its school are just down the street from the family's home, and Mariano said in his sermon that he hoped whoever has Isabel has a change of heart.

"I feel, in the name of the community, we feel we are violated," he said later.

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