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Tribal police seek motive of gunman who slew kin

- Associated Press - Monday, December 10, 2012

PORTERVILLE, Calif. — Authorities on Monday were trying to determine what prompted a man to kill four family members and wound two others on a rural Indian reservation in California.

Hector Celaya, 31, had had contact with police, but there was no indication that he would go on a shooting rampage on the Tule River Indian Reservation, tribal police Chief Mike Blain said.

"We need to go back and find what brought us to this," Chief Blain said. "Did we miss something? Did the community or family miss something?"

Police say Mr. Celaya opened fire on Saturday night, killing his mother, two uncles and a daughter. Two of Mr. Celaya's other children were wounded in the shooting.

Authorities later cornered him on a country road in the middle of citrus orchards 30 miles away from the reservation, where he died in a shootout with deputies.

In the car with him were two daughters: Alyssa, 8, who had life-threatening injuries and Linea, 5, who was seriously hurt. Sheriff's spokeswoman Chris Douglass said it was unclear when Mr. Celaya shot his daughters.

Mr. Celaya was wounded by deputies after he opened fire on them, and died hours later at a hospital, she said.

By Sunday night, authorities confirmed that Alyssa had also died. Police said Mr. Celaya had a tattoo of her name on his right leg.

Authorities have not disclosed what motivated Mr. Celaya to kill his relatives, who lived in a travel trailer on a family compound on the reservation of about 800 people.

Chief Blain said he had reported thefts to police and was once accused of driving under the influence with his children in the car. Police determined that claim was part of a child-custody dispute and without merit. Chief Blain did not elaborate on the theft reports.

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."

Ms. Hunter said that Mr. Celaya's mother was a friend of hers. The Tulare County Sheriff's Department, which is investigating the case, identified her as Irene Celaya, 60.

The killings stunned the tightknit tribal community.

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

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

AP writer John S. Marshall contributed to this report.

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