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Suspect in Indian reservation killings used drugs, police say

CelayaA man who killed four family members at a Central California Indian reservation was known to authorities as someone with drug issues.

Tulare County Sheriff's Sgt. Chris Douglass said authorities "were aware" of suspect Hector Celaya and he was "known to use drugs." A motive for the violence, however, remains unclear.

Celaya, 31, died Sunday after he was shot by Tulare County sheriff's deputies, authorities said.

A 911 caller reported shots being fired shortly after 7:45 p.m. Saturday in the 100 block of Chimney Road on the reservation. The caller said the gunman fled in a green Jeep Cherokee. Authorities said Celaya's daughters, ages 8 and 5, were with him.

Shelby Charley Jr., one of the first responders to the scene, said it was a “once-in-a-lifetime call."

“One moment we’re here at the firehouse joking around, getting ready to eat some dinner,” said Charley, an engineer at the Tule River Fire Department. “Next thing we know, we’re walking into a murder.”

Authorities found a man and woman shot to death at a trailer, and a 6-year-old boy injured. As Charley and his crew began to drive away with the boy, authorities found another man fatally shot in a nearby shed.

Investigators were able to identify their suspect as Celaya, and attempted to locate him through his cellphone. An Amber Alert was also issued, Douglass said, because Celaya was considered armed and dangerous.

Hours later, a deputy spotted a green Jeep about 20 miles away, near the small town of Lindsay, Douglass said. The driver refused to stop, prompting a low-speed chase, with the vehicle sometimes moving at less than 15 mph.

"It wasn't a major pursuit," Douglass said. "He just would not pull over."

Shortly before 2 a.m. Sunday, the Jeep stopped. Deputies saw the suspect fire a gun inside the vehicle. Deputies then opened fire on Celaya, Douglass said.

Celaya and one of his daughters, Alyssa, age 8, were found dead. Linea Celaya, 5, was admitted to the hospital for treatment.

Douglass said Celaya shot both girls at some point, but it was not clear when. Deputies could not see the girls when Celaya fired his gun and thus don't know "if that's exactly when they were shot," Douglass said.

The other victims were identified as Irene Celaya, 60; Francisco Moreno, 61; and Bernard Franco, 53. Hector Celaya's son, Andrew, age 6, was also injured and remains hospitalized.

The Tule River Tribe’s website describes its 139-year-old, 85-acre reservation as a “remote rural area” that is “accessible only by one winding paved road.”

“It is isolated in a rugged setting that allows for privacy and for development independent from urban or recreational sprawl,” the website states. The nearest city, Porterville, is roughly 20 miles west.

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-- Kate Mather

Follow Kate Mather on Twitter or Google+.

Photo: Hector Celaya. Credit: Tulare County Sheriff's Department

 
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