Parents of missing Arizona girl tearfully plead for her return

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 25, 2012 8:18 PM
Parents of missing Arizona girl tearfully plead for her return

By Brad Poole

TUCSON, Arizona (Reuters) - The anguished parents of a missing 6-year-old Arizona girl who authorities say may have been snatched from her bed made a tearful public appeal on Wednesday for her safe return, pleading to presumed abductors to "tell us what you want."

Wearing T-shirts bearing their daughter's picture, Sergio and Becky Celis appeared before reporters for the first time since the Tucson girl was reported missing on Saturday, speaking briefly in a parking lot in 90-degree heat.

In English, then in Spanish, the mother thanked well-wishers for their prayers and pleaded for her daughter, Isabel Mercedes Celis, to be set free. Her father, also speaking in English and Spanish, offered to meet any demands.

"Please, please, to the person or people who took Isabel, tell us what your demands. Tell us what you want. We will do anything," he said, his voice quivering with emotion. "Isabel, we will never give up. We will never stop looking for you."

After reading the statements, the parents hugged volunteers who have helped search surrounding areas since Saturday, then quickly walked away toward a motor home serving as a police command center. They took no questions from the media.

The parents have said Isabel, who has two older brothers, was last seen when she was put to bed on Friday night. The family awoke Saturday morning to find the hazel-eyed girl's bed empty, they told police.

Authorities say a window to the girl's ground-floor room was open, and a screen was missing.

Police have said they are treating the girl's disappearance as a "possible abduction" but have yet to rule anyone in or out as a possible suspect.

The search widened on Tuesday to washes surrounding the middle-class urban neighborhood. Police investigators have been paired with FBI agents to knock on every door within a 3-mile radius of the family's home, and all local trash companies have been contacted, said Tucson police Chief Roberto Villasenor.

The family was given the go-ahead to return to the modest single-story house on Wednesday morning, after FBI behavior analysts had inspected the home. The entire block remained cordoned off with police tape, and squad cars were posted at each end. Villasenor reiterated that the search continues, despite declining likelihood of finding the girl safe.

"We don't think about that," he said. "All we think about is bringing her back safely."

Investigators also have collected surveillance video from nearby businesses in hopes that some clues might have been caught on camera. A landfill and refuse-transfer station that serve the area have been secured and will be searched, he said.

"We're at about 300 tips and leads," and all will be pursued, Villasenor said. He added: "We are now concentrating our search on ... some focal points where we're hoping we'll have more success."

It was not clear whether the FBI's behavioral analysis team had spotted anything of interest in the family's home that two physical searches of the dwelling, including a sweep with specially trained dogs, had overlooked.

The behavior analysts planned to interview family members and other witnesses, and Villasenor said the parents were cooperating with investigators.

"Obviously (these) are times of emotional distress for them," he said.

(Additional reporting by Marisa Gerber; editing by Steve Gorman and Mohammad Zargham)