Gunman who killed 4 relatives on Indian reservation in California reported thefts to police
PORTERVILLE, Calif. — The gunman who killed four family members on a rural Indian reservation in California had reported thefts to police and was once accused of driving under the influence with his children in the car, authorities said Monday.
But police had no indication that Hector Celaya, 31, would kill his mother, two uncles and a daughter on the Tule River Indian Reservation on Saturday night, tribal police chief Mike Blain said.
Blain said the DWI claim against Celaya was part of a child custody dispute and was determined to be without merit. He did not elaborate on the theft claims.
Two of Celaya’s other children were wounded in the shooting.
Authorities later cornered him on a country road in the middle of citrus orchards 30 miles (48 kilometres) away from the reservation, where he died in a shootout with deputies.
In the car with him were two daughters: 8-year-old Alyssa who had life-threatening injuries and 5-year-old Linea who was seriously hurt. Sheriff’s spokeswoman Chris Douglass said it was unclear when Celaya shot his daughters.
Celaya was wounded by deputies after he fired on them, and died hours later at a hospital, she said.
By Sunday night, authorities confirmed that Alyssa had also died.
Authorities have not disclosed what motivated Celaya to kill his relatives, who lived in a travel trailer on a family compound on the reservation of about 800 people. But tribal members said the former custodian at the reservation’s casino had a troubled past.
“He had a real hard life,” said Rhoda Hunter, the tribal council secretary. “But all of us do, we all have a hard time. But we try not to let it get the best of us.”
Hunter said that Celaya’s mother was a friend of hers. The Tulare County sheriff’s department, which is investigating the case, identified her 60-year-old Irene Celaya.
The killings stunned the tightknit tribal community.
“We’ve had a lot of deaths here, but nothing like this. Not murder. No, not murder,” Hunter said.
The emergency call came to the Tule River Indian Reservation fire department at about 7:45 p.m. Saturday, said Shelby Charley Jr., an engineer and supervisor.
Charley said his crew immediately discovered a woman and man dead of gunshot wounds, then quickly found a young boy with critical wounds.
Minutes later, sheriff’s deputies found a third body in an outbuilding that had been set up as a makeshift bedroom. Authorities said the bodies of Irene Celaya and her 61-year-old brother Francisco Moreno were found in the trailer. The body of their 53-year-old brother, Bernard Franco, was in the shed.
The wounded boy was identified as Celaya’s 6-year-old son, Andrew.
Deputies found Celaya by tracking his cellphone.
He eventually pulled over in a rural area deep in the heart of citrus country outside the tiny community of Lindsay. Celaya opened fire, prompting deputies to return fire, Douglass said.
She did not say how many shots were fired, but said Celaya fired his gun “multiple times.” Celaya was shot during the exchange of gunfire, Douglass said.
Police said Celaya was “known to law enforcement” and “known to use drugs,” though Douglass could not provide details.