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Motive unclear in Tulare County Indian reservation shooting

December 10, 2012 | 10:34 am

CelayaAuthorities remained tight-lipped Monday about a motive for the slayings on a Central California Indian reservation where a man fatally shot his mother, uncles and young daughter and wounded his two other children.

Hector Celaya, 31, died Sunday after he was shot by Tulare County sheriff's deputies, authorities said. Sheriff's Sgt. Chris Douglass said authorities "were aware" of Celaya, who was "known to use drugs," but declined to say what might have prompted the shootings.

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 called 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 was taken to an area hospital with serious injuries, along with his daughters, Alyssa, age 8, and Linea, 5. 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.

Both Celaya and Alyssa later died, authorites 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.

Reservation officials could not be reached for comment.

The Tule River Tribe’s website describes its 139-year-old, 85-acre reservation as a “remote rural area” “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

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