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California Indian tribe to hold candlelight vigils to honor 5 slain reservation residents

A California Indian tribe said Tuesday it will hold candlelight vigils for the rest of the week to honor five reservation residents 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 our community has ever faced."

Authorities suspect Hector Celaya killed his 8-year-old daughter, his mother, her two brothers, and wounded his young son on Saturday. Hours later Celaya was shot by police and died at a hospital.

Andrew Celaya, 6, remained in critical condition Tuesday at Community Medical Center in Fresno. Linea Celaya, 5, was in serious condition.

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 violence has shaken this peace-preaching tribe, which teaches its members that love for family is above all.

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 (http://bit.ly/S135Pv ) 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 Tulare County Sheriff's 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."

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Reach Tracie Cone at http://www.twitter.com/TConeAP .

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