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California tribe holding vigils for five slain

Suspected killer, victims all related; 2 children injured

- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 11, 2012

PORTERVILLE, Calif. — A California Indian tribe said Tuesday it will hold candlelight vigils for the rest of the week in memory of five reservation residents slain over the weekend.

Tribal Chairman Neil Peyron of the Tule River Indian Reservation called the killings "one of the most horrific losses our community has ever faced."

Authorities suspect Hector Celaya killed his 8-year-old daughter, his mother, her two brothers, and wounded his other children Saturday. Hours later the suspect was shot by police and died at a hospital.

Son Andrew Celaya, 6, remained in critical condition Tuesday at Community Medical Center in Fresno, and daughter Linea Celaya, 5, was in serious condition.

No motive has been established, though police said the suspect, a former custodian at the tribe's Eagle Mountain Casino, had been involved in custody disputes with the mother of his children.

The violence has shaken this peace-preaching tribe, which teaches its members that love for family is above all. Murder is unheard of on the reservation, said Mike Blain, chief of the Tule reservation's small police department. He was at a loss to say what prompted the violence.

Mr. Peyron said in the statement that the candlelight vigil will begin the healing process.

Court records show that the suspect had spent time in jail in 2008 after pleading no contest to an assault and battery charge, the Fresno Bee reported. He was facing a possible return to jail after recent arrests for investigation of drunken driving and drug use, the newspaper reported Tuesday.

Mr. Blain said his department would work to aid the healing of the tight-knit community of about 800 people.

"We needed to go back and find what brought us to this. Did we miss something? Did the community or family miss something?" he said from his office in a double-wide modular home.

Irene Celaya, 60, and her brother Francisco "Frank" Moreno, 61, were killed in a travel trailer at the compound where the family lived. Bernard Moreno, 53, was found slain in an outbuilding set up as a bedroom.

Frank Moreno was enrolled as a tribal member, as were the children. Mr. Peyron said the other family members were a part of the community.

People on the reservation described Frank Moreno as a gregarious guy who was excited this month about winning a raffle at an event honoring tribal elders.

The Tulare County Sheriff's Department received a call in April call from the mother of the suspect's children who accused him of driving while intoxicated with the children in the car. Mr. Blain said the accusation was unfounded and part of the child custody dispute.

He referred the case to the tribe's version of Child Protective Services. What happened from there is private.

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