Amber Alert, barricade suspect dead; hostages rescued

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by Catherine Holland

Video reports by Ryan O'Donnell and Bruce Haffner

Posted on May 21, 2013 at 9:51 PM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 10 at 6:16 PM

Map: 91st Ave. & Camelback

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PHOENIX -- Hours after an Amber Alert turned into a hostage situation in West Phoenix, the hostages were rescued and the suspect is dead by his own hand.

Shortly before 10 a.m., 3TV's Ryan O'Donnell said he heard a "loud bang" from the house. Just minutes later he saw the 8-year-old and adult woman, the last hostages of Israel Celis Sr., walk out of the house.

"He looks great," O'Donnell said of the child. "He looks pretty wiped out, but he looks good. ... An adult woman walked out with him. They were holding hands. I think they're going to be fine."

Both were taken to a local hospital as a precaution.

With the hostages safe, SWAT teams that had been position both in front and in back of the house went in to arrest Celis. They found him dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, said Phoenix Police Sgt. Steve Martos.

A little more than two hours before the situation was resolved, a bloodied man who had been held hostage being escorted from the home. He reportedly had been shot. Police say he was able to escape when the SWAT team made its first foray into the house. Paramedics were on hand to treat the man, whose name has not been released. He was transported to the hospital a short time later.

Celis continued to hold a woman and an 8-year-old child hostage until about 10 a.m. According to Phoenix Police Sgt. Steve Martos, Celis had retreated with his hostages to a bedroom when SWAT rammed the house.

"Just about 8:00 this morning, some of our SWAT team members who were around this house heard what they believed were gunshots coming from inside the house," Martos said. "They decided to make entry. As they were making entry, this particular individual then barricaded himself ... into a bedroom in the home.

"It was a that point ... they decided to breach the entire front of the house with a BearCat [armored vehicle]," Martos continued. "They've done that. We're still trying to get this individual in custody."

Aerial video from the Fort McDowell Casino News Chopper showed the aftermath of BearCat's work. Two large holes and quite a bit of rubble were clearly visible in the decimated front walls of the house. A second SWAT vehicle made its way to the backyard and snipers had positioned themselves on the roof of the house next door.

For safety reasons, the media, including 3TV's O'Donnell, was moved back from the home.

Police and SWAT officers say they were in periodic communication with Celis throughout the night and more, but he steadfastly refused to surrender. Police believed he was armed and extremely dangerous.

All of this started with an Amber Alert that was issued shortly before 10 p.m. Monday.

Investigators say Celis was armed with a gun when he allegedly broke into his ex-wife's home and sexually assaulted her before tying her up with duct tape and taking their young son, Israel Celis Jr.

Police say Celis took his little boy to a West Phoenix home in the neighborhood 91st Avenue and Camelback Road. He had two other children, his 13-year-old and an 8-year old who is not his, with him, police said.

Celis holed up in that house all night. He kept the kids with him for hours, eventually releasing two of them.

Investigators said Celis, 32, and his wife are going through a divorce. Court paperwork showed that his wife filed for divorce this past spring. There was a hearing dealing with child custody in Family Court late last week.

Detectives initially believed Celis might have been taking his kids to Mexico, but he went to a friend's home in West Phoenix. Police and SWAT converged on the home and spent hours trying to talk Celis into surrendering.

Five adults were in the home when Celis arrived. One was released immediately. Police helped two more escape through a window.

Celis also had three children, ages 3, 8 and 13, with him. The 3-year-old who was the subject of the Amber Alert and the 13-year-old, both of whom belong to Celis, were released some time between 6:30 a.m. and 7 a.m. Tuesday.

The 8-year-old and an adult woman were still inside the house with Celis. It's not clear how that 8-year-old is  related to Celis.

Shortly before 6 a.m., police arrested a man believed to be a brother of somebody inside the home. That man reportedly was trying to sneak into the house. He has not been identified.

Investigators are not sure what prompted Celis, who has a criminal record, to take his son Monday night.

According to the Arizona Department of Corrections, Celis served a little more than six years in prison on aggravated assault and endangerment charges in connection with a drive-by shooting in August 1999. He was admitted to prison in January 2001 and released under supervision on March 12, 2007. That supervision ended in June 2008.

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