TUCSON, Ariz. — Police cordoned off a neighborhood block where a 6-year-old Arizona girl went missing from her home during the night, as authorities fanned out Sunday over a wide area looking for clues to the possible kidnapping.
Meanwhile, the parents of first-grader Isabel Mercedes Celis attended a morning Mass as friends and neighbors joined in the search.
“They were very upset,” said Leon Mazza, a deacon at St. Joseph Parish, which is a short walk from their home. “We didn’t ask for any information. We just let them know if they need help, come see us.”
Parish priest Miguel Mariano said the family regularly attends Mass and said he asked the parents if they needed any help from the congregation. “And then they said, `No, Father, just prayers,” Mariano said.
The couple hurried off, saying they were going to meet with police.
The Catholic church and its school are just down the street from the family’s home, and Mariano said in his sermon that he hoped whoever has Isabel has a change of heart.
“I feel, in the name of the community, we feel we are violated,” he said later. “It’s just right in our neighborhood.”
The girl’s parents last saw their daughter in her bedroom at their Tucson home at 11 p.m. Friday and discovered her missing at about 8 a.m. Saturday, police spokeswoman Sgt. Maria Hawke said. The parents phoned 911 minutes later.
Investigators were looking into various scenarios, including the possibility Isabel wandered out of the home she shares with her parents and two brothers. Hawke said Sunday that authorities were treating the case as “a suspicious disappearance and possible abduction.”
Karen Hebert, a registered nurse at Tucson Medical Center, said Sunday that she has worked with the girl’s mother for the past six months. Hebert, with help from her dog, planned to help with the search.
“She talks very highly about her kids, how smart they are, how playful they are. She just lights up and smiles when she’s talking about them,” Hebert said. “With all the hurt I’m feeling, I can’t imagine what they’re going through.”
After a fruitless day of searching Saturday, numerous patrol and search and rescue personnel continued the hunt Sunday morning, Hawke said. She said that at any given time, 75 to 100 officers were taking part, including police, FBI agents and deputy U.S. marshals.
Teams combed a large swath of Tucson on Saturday into the evening using street patrols, canines and a helicopter. At one point late Saturday, communications operator Patrick Olea said the area encompassed “pretty much the entire east side.”
Also involved are Department of Corrections bloodhounds, search and rescue experts and a Pima County rapid response team.
The girl’s home is situated in a working-class neighborhood, sandwiched between a shopping mall to the east and businesses and the Catholic school and church to the west.
On Sunday morning, the street was still cordoned off by police who were keeping anyone but residents out, and the alley that runs on one side also was blocked off. A home on the street of small, older single-family brick homes was surrounded by yellow police tape, while a group of people outside one home talked with a police officer.
Volunteers were manning an outpost set up near the family home as others, many family and friends, fanned out across the city for a second day. They were posting missing flyers in gas stations, malls and fast food restaurants that included a photo of Isabel holding up a school achievement award.
Friends of the family fanned out to distribute fliers with a photo of Isabel, who is described as just under 4-feet-tall and weighing 44 pounds, with brown hair and hazel eyes.
Neighbors told KVOA-TV in Tucson that they couldn’t understand how something like this could happen to the Celis family.
“They’re amazing people. They’re very nice very sweet (and) outgoing,” neighbor Jerry Pike said.