Investigators announced March 31 that the remains of Isabel Celis, a 6-year-old Tucson girl who went missing in 2012, were recently discovered in Pima County. Christopher Nicholson/azcentral.com
More than 450 mourners gathered Saturday morning at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Tucson to celebrate the short life of 6-year-old Isabel Celis, who disappeared five years ago.
Her remains were discovered last month in a remote part of Pima County, ending the hope that she would someday be reunited with her family. No arrests have been made.
A small card handed to attendees listed Isabel’s birth date as Aug. 27, 2005, and her death date as March 3, 2017 — just under a month before police publicly announced that her body had been found.
Family and friends wore purple. Before Mass began, attendees waited to pay their respects to the family, faces red with grief as they hugged Isabel’s parents. The church was crowded with families, many with children who weren’t even born when Isabel went missing.
An easel at the front of the church held large photos of Isabel, her shoulder-length brown hair framing her beaming face. Pink flowers lined the altar.
Before the Mass began, Isabel’s mother, Becky Celis, standing with Isabel’s father, Sergio Celis, thanked the crowd for the years of prayers and support.
“We, our family, thank you guys so much,” she said, asking everyone to “remember my baby girl happy and playing. Not the way she was taken, but the good memories.”
During the service, conducted in English and Spanish, a mariachi band played before the Scripture readings and prayers.Speakers mentioned the mystery surrounding the girl’s death.
The Mass concluded with “When You Wish Upon a Star” played on the violin.
As participants exited, they were handed pink and purple balloons. Becky and Sergio donned purple sunglasses. Together, the crowd released the balloons into the cloudless blue sky.
Reported missing in 2012
Isabel was reported missing from her home near Broadway Boulevard and Craycroft Road on the morning of April 21, 2012, when her father, Sergio, went to wake up Isabel in her bedroom for a baseball game and found she wasn’t there. Her mother had already left for work when Sergio Celis called police. Police records indicate Sergio found Isabel’s bedroom window open and the window screen off and damaged.
An exhaustive search by police and volunteers over 18 months that included going door to door talking to neighbors netted no results. Investigators interviewed neighbors, canvassed parks and searched a landfill in the hopes of finding the girl.
A neighbor told police she heard male voices outside her bedroom window at about 6:30 the morning the girl was reported missing. She said there were no sounds that indicated a struggle.
Police have never named a suspect in connection with the case. Isabel’s parents, particularly her father, were subject to intense scrutiny for weeks following the disappearance. The couple would later make statements concerning a family member who had moved away shortly after the girl’s disappearance as being uncooperative with private investigators retained by the family.
Details of how Isabel’s remains were discovered are scarce.
“We see this as absolutely a tragedy,” Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus said in a news conference following the discovery of the body. “We were all hoping to find her alive.”
Police refused to release them, citing “unintended consequences” they could potentially have on the case. Magnus would not state if police had identified new suspects or whether someone had already been arrested.
However, he said the tragic discovery made earlier this year was “not by happenstance.”
“This is not an ending we would have hoped for, but this is not the end to the case,” Magnus said.
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