Skip to main content

The Journal Gazette

  • Members of the Tule River Indian Reservation Fire Department help to dig the grave Monday Dec. 10, 2012 of a tribal member who died recently of natural causes. Afterward, they said they would move to the other side of the colorfully decorated cemetery for the somber task of digging a grave for 8-year-old Alyssa Celaya, who was murdered along with her grandmother and two other relatives on Sunday. Her father, 31-year-old Hector Celaya, is suspected in the killings and died in a shootout with Tulare County sheriff's deputies. The men said that they dig graves by hand instead of using backhoes or other machinery "out of respect." But never have they had to dig so many at once. All told, 5 residents of the reservation are dead. (AP Photo/Tracie Cone)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012 9:41 pm

Small Calif. tribe prepares to bury 5 from rampage

By TRACIE CONEAssociated Press

A California Indian tribe said Tuesday it will hold candlelight vigils for the rest of the week to honor five family members who were slain over the weekend.

Tribal Chairman Neil Peyron of the Tule River Indian Reservation called the killings "one of the most horrific losses" ever faced by the tribe that teaches its members that love for family is above all.

Authorities suspect Hector Celaya killed his 8-year-old daughter Alyssa Celaya, his mother, her two brothers, and wounded his young son and daughter on Saturday. Hours later Hector Celaya was shot during an exchange of gunfire with deputies and died at a hospital.

Andrew Celaya, 6, remained in critical condition Tuesday at Community Medical Center in Fresno. The condition of his sister, Linea Celaya, 5, was upgraded to fair on Tuesday afternoon.

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

The mother, Lindsay Ann Burrough, could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday, but photos and comments on her Facebook page revolve around her children. She said in November that Alyssa was outgoing and "always has to dance" and sing and "be tha BOSS n tha center of attention almost all the time..."

Andrew, she wrote, is a handsome "mommas boi" who loves his grandmother.

The family has declined to comment to The Associated Press.

"I'm just sad, too sad," said Vincent Burrough, who answered the family's home phone on Tuesday. His relation to Lindsay Burrough was unclear.

The violence has shaken this peace-preaching tribe.

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.

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

Court records show that Celaya, a former custodian at the reservation casino, 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.

Blain said his department would work to aid the healing of the tightknit 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 doublewide 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. Peyron said the other family members were a part of the tightknit 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 tribe's police department received a call in April call from the mother of Hector Celaya's children who accused him of driving while intoxicated with the children in the car. 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.

The Tule reservation spreads across 56,000 acres in California's Central Valley. The area about 20 miles east of Porterville rises to an elevation of 7,500 feet in the Sierra Nevada, and its steep and winding roads make travel slow.

Modular homes and trailers are built onto hillsides that overlook the Tule River canyon. On grassy hillsides, herds of paint horses graze alongside the occasional steer.

"The community is a peaceful one, and the tribe tries to teach children to be nonviolent," said Rhoda Hunter, the tribal council secretary. "We teach our children to not even kill insects."


AP Researcher Judith Ausuebel contributed to this report.

Reach Tracie Cone at