Published — Tuesday 11 December 2012
Last update 11 December 2012 4:54 am
PORTERVILLE: A man went on a shooting rampage on the Tule River Indian Reservation that left a daughter, his mother and her two brothers dead. The suspect also died in a shootout with police.
Authorities cornered Hector Celaya, 31, on a country road in the middle of citrus orchards 30 miles away from the reservation and about six hours after the shootings Saturday night, that also left two of his other children wounded.
In the car with him were two daughters, 8-year-old Alyssa and 5-year-old Linea. One had life-threatening injuries; the other did not.
Authorities said Celaya was fatally wounded by deputies after he opened fire on them.
By Sunday night, authorities confirmed that Alyssa died of her injuries.
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.
The killings stunned the tightknit tribal community.
The compound where the shooting took place is on a dirt road in a scenic canyon lined with oaks and sycamore trees. Herds of horses graze the hillsides, and modular houses sit on hilltops.
The 911 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. He said his crew, which most often attends to people who fall ill at the casino, was shocked by the carnage.
Charley said his crew immediately discovered a woman and man dead of gunshot wounds, then quickly discovered a young boy with critical wounds. Thick fog grounded helicopters in Fresno and Bakersfield, so rescue workers had to drive the gravely injured boy 40 minutes to the nearest hospital in Visalia.
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. A chase ensued, though Celaya never exceeded the speed limit and sometimes slowed to 15 mph, police said.
He eventually pulled over in a rural area deep in the heart of citrus country outside the tiny community of Lindsay, about 30 miles from the reservation. Celaya opened fire, prompting deputies to return fire, sheriff’s spokeswoman Chris Douglass said.
Celaya was shot during the exchange of gunfire, Douglass said. He died hours later at a hospital.
It was unclear when Celaya shot his daughters, Douglass said.
Police said Celaya was “known to law enforcement” and “known to use drugs,” though Douglass could not provide details.