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Indian Reservation Shootings: Gunman Hector Celaya dead after killing 4 people, police say

This undated photo provided by the Tulare County Sheriff's Department shows Hector Celaya, 31. Authorities say that Celaya is a suspect in shootings in which three people died and four others, including two young girls, were wounded Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012, on the Tule River Indian Reservation in the Sierra foothills of California's Central Valley. (AP Photo/Tulare County Sheriff's Department) uncredited

Hector Celaya
AP Photo/Tulare County Sheriff's Department

(CBS/AP) PORTERVILLE, Calif. - Authorities said a man went on a shooting rampage at a California Indian reservation Saturday evening that left a daughter, his mother and her two brothers dead before dying in a shootout with police.

Hector Celaya, 31, was cornered on a country road 30 miles away from the Tule River Indian Reservation, about six hours after the shootings that also left two of his other children wounded.

In the car with him were his 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.

Douglass said Celaya died at a hospital, hours after he opened fire on deputies. By Sunday night, authorities confirmed that Alyssa had also died. Police said Celaya had a tattoo of her name on his right leg.

Authorities have not disclosed what motivated Celaya to kill his relatives, who lived in a travel trailer on a family compound on the reservation. 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 she was a friend Celaya's mother. The Tulare County sheriff's department identified Celaya's mother as 60-year-old Irene Celaya.

"We've had a lot of deaths here, but nothing like this. Not murder. No, not murder," Hunter said.

The remote reservation of 800 people relies on the Eagle Mountain Casino for revenues. Each tribal member receives $500 a month, but Hunter said most of the profit is invested into educational programs for the children.

The Tule River Indian Reservation fire department received a 911 call 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.

"This is a once in a lifetime kind of deal," Charley said. "It's one of those calls you could go your whole career and not walk into. This is one of those calls that will stick with you for the rest of your life."

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.

Sheriff's deputies found a third body minutes later in an outbuilding that was 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, Douglass said.

She did not say how many shots were fired, but said Celaya fired his gun "multiple times." Douglass said Celaya was shot during the exchange of gunfire.

Police said Celaya was "known to law enforcement" and "known to use drugs," though Douglass could not provide details.

On the steps of Mater Dolorosa Catholic Church, Hunter said she has never known such tragedy. The church bell that rings out to announce the deaths of tribal members echoed through the reservation Sunday as news of each death made its way to tribal authorities.

"This is so horrible. We will be doing a lot of praying," Hunter said.

  • Crimesider Staff

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