Authorities investigate Tule River Indian Reservation killings

December 10, 2012 12:26:23 AM PST
Details are still unfolding in the deadly South Valley shootings this weekend.

The Tulare County Sheriff's Office says the suspect, Hector Celaya, killed four people, including his 8-year-old daughter, his mother and her brother. South Valley authorities say he also shot his six-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter. Hector Celaya also died.

While it's not clear what motivated the murders. Officials said everyone involved appears to be related, but a press release from the Tule River Indian Tribe on Monday said several of the adult victims were not enrolled members of the tribe though they lived on the Reservation. The children involved were listed as tribe members. Hector Celaya was also not listed as a tribe member.

The mass shooting began on a hillside property at the Tule River Indian Reservation near Porterville on Saturday night.

Tulare County Sheriff's investigators say 31-year-old Hector Celaya shot six of his relatives -- killing four of them. His mother, Irene Celaya, and her brother, Francisco Moreno were killed in a trailer on the reservation. Bernard Franco was found dead in a nearby shed. Celaya's six-year-old son was also shot in the trailer, but he survived.

Deputies say Celaya then left the reservation with his 8 and 5-year-old daughters. Tracking his cell phone signal, authorities caught up with Celaya near Lindsay about six hours after the first shooting.

"Shots were fired in the vehicle. Not necessarily at the deputies, but inside the vehicle. So deputies did shoot their firearms at the suspect. The suspect was struck," said Sgt. Chris Douglass, Tulare County Sheriff's Office.

The sheriff's office soon found the two young girls in the getaway car with gunshot wounds. They said 8-year-old Alyssa died at the hospital, and 5-year-old Linea Celaya's injuries were not life-threatening.

Officials at Community Regional Medical Center in Downtown Fresno said Hector Celaya died there on Sunday.

"It's still part of our investigation to verify if he should have had custody of them, or if it was a parental abduction," said Sgt. Douglass.

Family members living on the reservation said they are saddened by the murders. Tribal members and investigators say Celaya had a troubled past. "He's known to law enforcement and also to be a possible drug user, as well," said Sgt. Douglass.

While many details of the deadly night are still unknown, the small Tule tribe -- including Celaya's two surviving children -- certainly have a lot of healing to do.

Hector Celaya grew up in the Orange Cove area, and used to work as a custodian for Eagle Mountain Casino. Sheriff's officials say an autopsy is scheduled to determine if Celaya died after being shot by a deputy, or whether he killed himself.

The deputies involved in the shooting are on administrative leave.


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