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Despite wide search, no sign of missing Tucson girl

Police say parents are cooperating with investigators

Investigators are looking into several theories, including the possibility Isabel Celis, 6, wandered out of the home.

TUCSON - Police kept a whole neighborhood block where a missing 6-year-old Arizona girl lives cordoned off Sunday for a second day, and scoured a wide area of the city for clues to her possible kidnapping.

The parents of Isabel Mercedes Celis asked their parish priest for prayers as volunteers passed out fliers across Tucson and more than 150 law enforcement officers tried to figure out whether she had been abducted.

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Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor said at a news conference that officers working on the case had served at least two search warrants but had no new clues in the disappearance of the first-grader.

He said the girl’s parents, identified by friends as Becky and Sergio Celis, were helpful as police worked to find their youngest child. He said police still were classifying the case as a “suspicious disappearance/possible abduction.’’

“We’re not ruling anything out of the investigation at this point because we really need to keep our minds open about all the information that’s been brought to us,’’ Villasenor said. “The family has been cooperating with us.’’

The Celises 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 Sergeant Maria Hawke said. The parents phoned 911 minutes later.

Investigators are looking into several theories, including the possibility Isabel wandered out of the home she shares with her parents and two brothers.

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Hawke said Sunday the wandering off theory was becoming less likely as time passed.

After a fruitless day of searching Saturday, officials continued the hunt Sunday morning, Hawke said.

About 75 to 100 officers were taking part at any given time, including police, FBI agents, and deputy US marshals.

Teams combed a large swath of Tucson on Saturday into the evening using street patrols, dogs, and a helicopter. At one point late Saturday, communications operator Patrick Olea said the area encompassed “pretty much the entire east side.’’

In New York, investigators are digging up the basement of a building in the SoHo neighborhood in connection to the 1979 disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz. That search was halted for the day Sunday, partly because of heavy rain, but is expected to resume Monday morning.

Patz was on his way to his school bus stop when he disappeared. He would have passed the stairwell leading to the basement during his walk, and authorities launched the search after an FBI dog detected the scent of human remains in the room.

In the Tucson case, friends said Becky Celis has not been allowed to join the search for her daughter.

Mary Littlehorn, who has worked with Becky Celis as a registered nurse at Tucson Medical Center for five years, said the couple have been together since they were teenagers and dote on their sons and daughter.

She said Isabel, whose nickname is Isa, loves to play baseball and dance; the girl was supposed to play in a baseball game Saturday.

“She’s just the sweetest, she is feisty, she’s full of life and spirit,’’ Littlehorn said.

Littlehorn, who gathered Sunday with other family friends at a police command post, said authorities separated the two parents for hours Saturday as they questioned them.

She said Becky Celis works in the pediatrics unit and Sergio Celis is a dental hygienist.

On Sunday morning, the street was 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.

Volunteers posted fliers of the girl - who is described as about 4 feet tall with brown hair and hazel eyes - in gas stations, malls, and fast food restaurants that included a photo of Isabel holding up a school achievement award.

At St. Joseph Parish Sunday morning, the parents and their two sons attended an early Mass, and Deacon Leon Mazza described the parents as “very upset.’’

“We didn’t ask for any information. We just let them know if they need help, come see us,’’ Mazza said.

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.

Mariano said in his sermon that he hoped whoever might have abducted Isabel has a change of heart. “I feel, in the name of the community, we feel we are violated,’’ he said later.

Karen Hebert, another registered nurse, 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.

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