Recent news coverage of young children living in the Tucson neighborhood of missing six-year-old Isabel Mercedes Celis, shows heartbreaking footage of children crying and pleading for the little girl’s safe return. Parents of other children in the neighborhood are holding their children a little tighter nearly a week after the first grader’s disappearance from her home sometime during the early morning hours of April 21.
Isabel’s father called Tucson Police Department at approximately 8:14 a.m. on Saturday when he went to wake Isabel and discovered his daughter was not in bed, the bedroom window open and screen removed in the single-story house where the child resides with both parents and two older brothers. Isabel’s mother had already left for work at 7:30 a.m. Isabel’s parents told detectives they last saw their daughter Friday evening when putting her into bed.
Police are treating Isabel’s disappearance and investigation as a possible abduction but typical of any investigation involving the disappearance of a child, detectives must also focus investigative attention on the family to determine any potential involvement. Police Chief Roberto Villasenor made it very clear that investigators do not have tunnel vision and not focused solely on the family, acknowledging the family has been very cooperative and experiencing significant emotional distress.
Sparing no expense
The family has kept a low profile in the aftermath of their daughter’s disappearance while Tucson Police Department detectives continue to search the residence and surrounding area, even searching the homes of neighbors. With assistance from FBI Behavioral Analysts and specialized canine units, Tucson police have spared no expense in their effort to locate the missing child.
Police have gone door to door, canvassed the area, and conducted extensive ground and aerial searches of the neighborhood and even searched a nearby landfill. Police are and now are requesting any security camera footage from neighbors in an attempt to piece the evening together. The investigation seems to have intensified within the Celis residence after FBI search dogs got a ‘hit’ within the family’s home. Details have not been forthcoming on the kind of evidence found inside the residence.
Canine units can be invaluable in the search for missing persons or forensic evidence. Chief Roberto Villasenor has indicated a scent-following dog and a cadaver dog are being used to aide in the investigation. Scent-following or tracking canines can detect the scent of a live missing person starting at area ‘last seen’ and focus exclusively on that scent. Tracking canines have the ability to follow skin particles that fall on the ground and even in the wind to locate the individual. Cadaver dogs undergo intensive training to ignore the scent of a live human and instead focus on a wide spectrum of odors associated with human remains and various stages of decomposition.
Typically referred to as criminal profilers in several weekly TV drama series, the real agents with the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit utilize behavioral science to assist criminal investigations. The unit is comprised of supervisory special agents and veteran officers who specialize in psychology, sociology, criminology, those specializing in conflict resolution along with research and crime analysts.
Agents working in the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit offer resources to local law enforcement agencies throughout the country such as crime analysis, investigative strategies and suggestions, and can even develop profiles of the potential offender based upon behavioral analysis. According to Supervisory Special Agent Mark Hilts, “The perspective that we look at is the behavior, it’s the motivation. It’s the ‘why’ part of a criminal investigation.”
Time is of the essence
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) has referred to the Tucson investigation for the beautiful six-year-old as the largest missing child case currently happening in the country. NCMEC is also providing search assistance and national flyer distribution. Though Tucson Police have not yet publicly stated Isabel is a victim of an abduction by a stranger, there is no doubt the investigators are utilizing every resource at their disposal as national statistics are a grim reminder with each passing day the child remains missing.
According the United States Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention, approximately 797, 500 children younger than eighteen were reported missing during a one-year period, totaling 2,185 children reported missing each day. 203,900 children were victims of family abductions; 58,200 children victims of non-family abductions; and approximately 115 children were victims of ‘stereotypical’ kidnapping defined as someone the child does not know or slight acquaintance who holds the child overnight, transports the child 50 miles or more, kills the child, demands ransom, or intends to keep the child permanently.
With stereotypical kidnappings, in 60% of the cases, there is typically over a two-hour delay making the initial missing child report and the vast majority, approximately 76%, of abducted children murdered within three hours of the abduction.
Child killers are typically males around 27 years old, predominately unmarried with half either living alone or with their parents. Described as social marginal, more than half are unemployed, and those who are employed work in unskilled or semi-skilled labor occupations.
Most victims of child abduction murder, approximately 57%, are victims of opportunity and described as a rare occurrence, approximately 14% of cases the predator pre-selected his victim due to some physical characteristic. It remains clear the primary motivation for child abduction murders is sexual assault.
Regardless of the statistics or hours gone by, the family and the community must hold on to hope until Isabel is located. If it is determined that Isabel has been the victim of a kidnapping by a stranger or minimal acquaintance, it is the cooperative relationships of the police, news media, assisting search agencies and the public that bring children home. Every news report and flyer posted, significantly increased the potential of generating that one lead investigators need to bring Isabel home.
National news headlines reporting the safe recovery of Jaycee Dugard and Elizabeth Smart, both victims of stereotypical kidnapping and found alive years later, reflect one must never give up hope of finding a missing child alive.
When a child goes missing, the families of the missing child as well as parents and children in the community are traumatized by fear as can be seen in the recent news stories in Tucson. However, hope becomes the glue that bonds neighbors, rallies community support, and hope provides the strength and determination to continue search efforts. For the parents of a missing child giving up is not an option, hope is all that is left.
Anyone with information regarding the disappearance of Isabel Celis is urged to call Tucson Police Department at 520-791-4444.
Date of disappearance: 04/21/2012
Hair: Brown, in two long braids
Identifying Marks/Features: Missing two front teeth; missing one upper and one missing in lower row of teeth.
For information about child safety and how to protect your children, please visit the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at www.missingkids.com.