Isabel Celis: Three Years Missing; Police Silent on Persons of Interest

Saturday, April 21, 2012, Sergio Celis Calls Emergency 911

Tucson, Arizona

“Hello, I want to report a missing person said Sergio.Celis to the 911 dispatcher.

First impressions. Quick, don’t overthink. Was this a call for a friend, acquaintance in need, a work colleague?

Is this how YOU would report your “missing” six-year old daughter?

In this excellent updated commentary provided by Peter Hyatt on his website, the 911 call is analyzed according to the principles of Scientific Content Analysis (SCAN). This is a good introductory exercise for any readers unfamiliar with the techniques used by the FBI, law enforcement, specially trained military interrogators. [Refer to former military interrogator Lena Sisco’s guest blog.]  The beauty of the science is that any interested, motivated individuals can learn the techniques. Caution: it’s harder than it looks but fascinating!

Mr. Celis’ telephone call should shock listeners. Immediately, we’re alerted to deception. Put yourself in the position of Sergio Celis. It’s a Saturday morning. His wife had left for work. Their little girl — and only daughter — is found to be missing from her bedroom and is nowhere in the house.  As Peter explains,

the father of a kidnapped child is not likely to start his call with “hello.  Note: this is not expected by anyone in a hurry to get emergency information to an operator.

The father of a kidnapped child is not likely to refer to her as a “person.”  Please note that a “person” is gender neutral 


“I believe she was abducted…”

Sergio Celis: “I want to report a missing person, my little girl who’s six years old, I believe she was abducted from my house.”

IsabelCelisTimelinePhotoEven though statement analysis studies words, not inflection or tone of voice, the calm, measured style is notable. He doesn’t need to be screaming or loudly weeping, but how much colder can he get?  We don’t need any special training to detect an immediate problem. Detachment. Guilty knowledge.  Deception.

His wife, Rebecca (Becky), was called at work prior to the 911 to inquire about Isabel and then told to “get her butt home” [chuckles at his own joke — and in a later interview gets defensive about public criticism.]

Earlier That Morning

According to next door neighbor, Alicia Stardevant, who rented a guest house on the other side of the fence from Isabel’s bedroom, she was awakened around 6:30 a.m. that Saturday morning. Her dog was agitated and barked furiously. The Celis’ dogs were barking like crazy. Alicia reported that she heard male voices from across the fence. However, after calming her dog down, Alicia didn’t look out the window, instead going back to sleep. She claimed in later interviews to deeply regret this decision, as she believes now that she would have witnessed the person(s) responsible for whatever harm came to Isabel.

Alicia’s claims of the barking dogs and voices next door lead to an obvious question. Getting ready and leaving for work at this time, why didn’t Becky Celis hear the commotion? Even with a bedroom on the other side of the house, she would hear the dogs barking. She was possibly walking out to her car as the men were talking outside Isabel’s window.

These “kidnappers” took an unnecessary risk by selecting such a time for an abduction. Why would they select early morning daylight? Why did they speak in a normal tone of voice, risking waking the neighbors, which they did. Why was it necessary to speak at all if it was planned out. They had surely watched the house and the residents’ routines. Becky was/is a nurse in the Pediatrics Unit at Tucson Medical Center. For the last five years, she would leave at routine times.

Where was the getaway car? Did Becky notice a strange car parked nearby? They had to carry Isabel from her room at the side of the house, transporting her somewhere.  Even if she was placed in a bag (sorry for that image) the kidnappers would have to walk around with a large bag if they didn’t have a waiting car.

Quotes from 911 Call with Commentary

IsabelCelisSergioAndBeckyHere’s another section of the call accompanied by Peter’s commentary. I won’t cite the entire 911 transcript since the article is linked above. But this will give you all an insight into the irregularities of Sergio Celis’s call to report Isabel “abducted.”

Dispatcher: Okay. Is mom there also?

[PH: This is a yes or no question. Anything beyond “yes” or “no” is sensitive.]

Sergio: Uh, she had just left for work, I just called her and I told her to get her butt home. (chuckles)

[PH: Here he established his wife’s alibi. Whatever happened to Isabel, instead of answering “yes or no” there was a need to explain that it happened while his wife was not home.]

If he had “no idea” what happened to her (Isabel), how is it that she (Becky) had “just” left for work?
Please note the word “told.”
The word “told” is used in authoritative sentences. “My boss said to be at work at 9” is one way of saying it, while, “My boss told me…” is stronger. Here, he portrays the sentence as if he had to exercise authority to “tell” her or “instruct” her to come home.]

Dispatcher: Okay. How tall is she?
Sergio: She is five two.

[PH: This indicates where his mind is: he is concentrating on “pleasing” the operator and not about his missing daughter.

His language reveals that Isabel is not a priority. He thought of his wife in the “get your butt home” comment and his mind is still on his wife, not daughter, who, if truly “missing” or “abducted” would be all he cared about. This is a parental instinct to care only for the missing child. He is more concerned with image and alibi than he is with his missing daughter.]

Dispatcher: No the, I’m sorry, you’re daughter
Sergio: Oh my daughter. Um…forty inches. Thirty, yeah 36 to 40 inches.

[PH: If your child was missing, would a 911 operator need to redirect your attention back to your daughter? This is the reason in an interview, we do not “redirect” anything: we listen.]

Why Are Sergio & Becky Reluctant to Address “Kidnappers” and Search for Isabel?

Isabel’s parents’ behavior was perplexing. Factoring in different temperaments, different responses to stress, they came across as secretive and reluctant to even say their daughter’s name.  It’s instinctual for parents, especially a mother, to call out for her child, to agonize about what happened, what she could have done differently, is her child in pain, being hurt by her captors. A normal mom wants to work with police and report every new thing, however small, that she remembers. Even if reserved, the mother of a missing child will accept law enforcement’s offer to speak to her daughter directly via the media, and also to ask the kidnappers what they want. I know it’s what I would do and I don’t know a woman who would prefer to do nothing but sulk and complain as if this ordeal was all about her.

In their first national media interview on the “Today” show with Ann Curry, (thirteen days after Isa disappeared) the couple’s demeanor and responses were peculiar. They expressed frustration that the local police were spending too much time focusing on them (something very normal in police investigations) instead of searching. This was untrue as the police were conducting a massive and active investigation including searches of landfills, stormdrains, etc, courtesy of the taxpayers.. Meanwhile, Sergio and Becky Celis were busy hiding out. They had groups of volunteers willing to help with anything. The local community had rallied with tremendous support for the family. But the Celis’ had no intention of using this support to search for Isabel in those very important initial hours following the “abduction.” They would make appearances at candelight vigils, at kiosks and designated gathering places for volunteers. There they coordinated t-shirt sales and flyers.

Local law enforcement, the Tucson Police Department, was encouraging the parents to speak out on behalf of Isabel. The Celis’ resisted speaking out on local media, soon refusing to be interviewed. Instead they agreed to speak via national media, selecting NBC’s “The Today Show” for their first interview. [See below.]

Donations were arriving. An account was set up at a local bank. Becky’s employer and her group of fellow nurses also donated. Becky was photographed accepting a large check from the nurses. All donations were specified “for the Celis family’s use…and for searches for Isabel..”  To this day, to my knowledge, they have not been involved in a single search effort for their daughter.

The reason? In my opinion and the opinion of Peter Hyatt, Isabel is dead. The parents know it. It’s the only logical conclusion. Listen to Sergio’s response to Ann Curry’s hardball question:

Ann Curry: “There is no easy way to ask this question. But because this is your first live television interview, Sergio let me ask you this question: What do you want to say about questions about whether you had anything to with your daughter’s disappearance?

Isabel Celis

Isabel Celis

Sergio: (excluding his first couple of sentences which don’t address her question anyway). Here he directs his comments to whomever might have taken the girl. To whomever did this, please. Look at her. Look at her. She is beautiful. She doesn’t deserve this. She deserves to be home in her room, playing with her brothers, and just loving life the way she does.” Then he added, “There are so many things that are so frustrating and difficult to deal with.”

There you have it.  A distraught father of a missing six-year old tells her captors to look at her and to note her beauty. He’s a deceptive creep, and worse, is endangering his little girl’s life if is indeed in the hands of abductors. For anyone studying this case from the start, there are many more similar comments from Sergio.

Child Protective Services

Becky Celis defends her man, even after Child Protective Services arranged a voluntary separation of Sergio from his sons not long after Isabel’s disappearance. Both boys were put into Rebecca’s custody and Sergio moved out.

It was reported at the time that police had notified CPS due to some observations and information about the family. It turns out that police also confirmed that CPS had visited the family the prior December, although confidentiality prevented any further disclosure about the reason for the visit. This is a troubled family. Whatever happened, Becky knows about it and she still defended her husband after the separation. This is a mother in protective mode, and, in my opinion, more concerned about saving her marriage than whatever tragedy befell her six-year old daughter.

IsabelCelisBeckyCelisInIsabelsBedroomThe family was eventually reunited. And although they have redecorated Isabel’s room and filled it with gifts for her return, it’s empty rhetoric for the public or perhaps to justify and ease the knowledge they have about Isabel’s real fate.

They have welcomed donations from the start. Almost immediately a special account was set up to provide for the “needs of the family and…to search for Isabel.”   The Bring Isa Home website hasn’t been updated in a year but the “Pay” button is still intact. Becky and Sergio were away from their work for a significant period of time. If they had received enough money, they may have taken early retirement. Think of Cindy and George Anthony who never returned to their jobs, living off the blood money from the murder of their grandchild.

A Disturbing Trend of “Missing” Children

There has been a noticeable and disturbing trend in this country. After the Casey Anthony acquittal, stories started appearing about children disappearing from the family home. Sometimes of course there are stranger abductions and that must cause unbearable anxiety and grief for parents and families.

Aliayah Lunsford

Aliayah Lunsford

I’m referring to cases like the disappearance of Isabel in Tucson, Baby Lisa in Kansas City, Baby Ayla Reynolds in Maine, little Aliayah Lunsford in West Virginia, the latter a case dear to my heart.  All the parents stonewall, refuse to work with police, provide unlikely alibis and some lawyer up immediately such as Baby Lisa Irwin’s parents, Deborah Bradley and Jeremy Irwin. Cadaver dogs hit on a spot on Deborah Bradley’s bedroom floor, yet she’s all about deserving her “adult time” drinking box wine with a neighbor on the front porch. Deborah even got a makeover not long after the incident.