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Rebecca Celis: "We break down every night"

Isabel's parents face Tucson media in a wide-ranging, live interview

CREATED May 4, 2012 - UPDATED: May 4, 2012

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  • Video by 1041kqth.com

  • Video by 1041kqth.com

  • Rebecca and Sergio Celis hold hands at the start of their press conference Friday morning in Tucson.

  • "We break down every night" - Rebecca responds bitterly to a suggestion that the family is holding back information.

  • 13 days after their daughter's disappearance, Sergio and Rebecca Celis granted their first media interview on Thursday, going live on the NBC Today Show

Reporters: Forrest Carr and Guy Atchley

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV)  - "Sorry that we are not breaking down in front of you guys every five seconds."

Those words from Rebecca Celis came near the top of a wide-ranging, live press conference held Friday morning.  The two had not previously met with Tucson journalists to discuss their daughter Isabel's disappearance, which happened two weeks ago.  The interview took place in a tightly controlled pool coverage format, and covered a number of issues. 

The press conference started with a challenging, direct question.  KVOA anchor Tom McNamara noted that some media outlets have been hiring forensic psychologists to analyze the Celis family's public statements.  "Their conclusion is they're not telling us everything you know.  Do you know where Isabel is?"

That question drew an emotional response from Rebecca.  "No we don't.  I know don't what they're expecting from us.  Do you know how we're supposed to be acting?  Please let us know right now.  Our heart is breaking all the time." 

A short time later she added bitterly,  "We break down every night.  Sorry that we are not breaking down in front of you guys every five seconds."

Although the press conference started out on a challenging and emotional note, it grew less confrontational as the Celises continued to speak. 

The family again expressed frustration with police, but that was not a major theme of the comments.   Rebecca and Sergio thanked the community profusely for its help, and asked for more prayers and continued vigilance.   Both expressed concern about revealing too much information about the investigation, and cited those concerns as a reason not to go into details about the timeline of what happened on the night Isabel disappeared.  Interestingly, however, Sergio said he is no longer sure that whoever took Isabel took her through the little girl's own bedroom window.

Both said they've kept a low public profile until this point because of the emotional impact of Isabel's disappearance and desire to protect their other children from public scrutiny.  They also pointed out that while all this is going on, they have a family to raise.  They promised to be more involved in the future but also said that involvement has to be balanced against those other concerns.

Rebecca and Sergio admitted that they have taken lie detector tests but said they are not allowed to discuss that any further.  Both denied emphatically that they have had anything to do with Isabel's disappearance.

The press conference took place at a Tucson hotel under tightly controlled conditions.  Only one camera was allowed, and only one reporter from KOLD, KVOA and KGUN9 were allowed to enter the room and ask questions.  The Celis family selected the reporters.  For KGUN9 News, anchor Guy Atchley received the invitation and represented 9 On Your Side.  The three TV journalists  alternated asking questions.

The family also allowed a reporter and photographer from the Arizona Daily Star to be in the room and witness the press conference, but did not allow them to ask questions.  Instead, the family gave them a separate interview opportunity following the live press conference.

At one point during the live event, a Phoenix-based reporter walked into the room and asked a question, one that had already been asked.   Immediately afterwards, a Tucson police officer escorted that reporter from the room.  

Because of security concerns and concerns for the privacy of Rebecca and Sergio Celis, KGUN9 News has agreed to withhold the location where the press conference took place.  KGUN9 News has confirmed, however, that NBC News has been paying for the Celis family to stay at the hotel.   During the press conference, the Celis's denied that they were directly compensated for Thursday's exclusive appearance on The Today Show or for the exclusive video of Isabel that they provided to NBC.  The family released that same video to Tucson media later Thursday.

Below are notes mostly  taken in real time as the press conference unfolded.

Anchor Tom McNamara:  Several media outlets have consulted forensic psychologists who have been watching your appearances, who have been watching what you say.  Their conclusion is you're not telling us everything you know.  Do you know where Isabel is?

Rebecca:  No.

Sergio:  No.

Rebecca:  No we don't.  I know don't what they're expecting from us.  Do you know how we're supposed to be acting?  Please let us know  right now. Our heart is breaking all the time.    I don't want to be in front of the camera.  We don't want to be right here.  This is not, I don't know what they are expecting from us. 

Sergio:  Or how to behave.

Rebecca:  Or how to behave.  Because for me, we break down every night.  Sorry that we are not breaking down in front of you guys every five seconds.  I am very private.  I am not one to show my feelings in front of people.  You can ask anybody.  I need my friends and family.  I am very closed person. And I cry by myself.  I break down by myself.  I don't even break down in front of my kids and my husband.  That is my thing, my private -- I'm sorry, that is just the way I am.  

Sergio:  We've gone through everything in our mind. I don't know what we are allowed to say about the investigation.  We really don't know.  We are cooperating with the investigation. That's what we've been doing all along.  Now it's giving thanks to the community, and working with the media.  We have so much gratitude with the way you guys have constantly been with the story.

Rebecca:  We don't know why we've been the target.  We've gone through who's been in our house.

Sergio:  We don't know. We're going round and round and round.  And yes, it's extremely frustrating.   Even with the department, we share the same frustrations. We express our frustrations with them about the investigation.  They share them right back. 

Guy Athcley:  The polygraph tests.  How many have you taken?

Rebecca:  We are not allowed to discuss any of that.

Guy: How is the donation money being used?

Rebecca:  It's to get the information out into the community, making the posters, making the banners, that is what the fund is for.  At least that is what I was told.

Sergio:  As it comes in, it goes out again.

Rebecca:  We are okay financially.  We have made it through worse.  We want it all to go for Isabel.

(Reporter question about ransom)

Sergio:  I wanted to be clear that nothing had been mentioned.  I wanted, let us know something, why is this happening. And the fact that nothing has been mentioned about that.   And even the the reward money, when we first saw it, 88 Crime set up the reward, everything as far as we know has been anonymous donations to that fund.

(Reporter:  question about other two children)

Rebecca:  The boys are  hanging on but it is wearing on them.  The  youngest one is breaking down more, crying more.  My oldest is a little stronger.  He is like I am, and hides it more.

Sergio:  It's a lot of quiet cuddle time, and holding them.  It is wonderful to see when they smile.  They come right up, and hold them tight.  And the hold right  back.  It is wearing them down.  We didn't even have intentions of  possibly getting them back in school this week. I am hoping next week, we will start some school, and set some boundaries.  They each have gone back and played one game with their Little League teams.  It was extremely difficult.  They only have so much time left with school, we do want them back there. But at the same time we do notice it is taking its toll on them.

(Reporter question about polygraphs).

Sergio:  As far as we are aware, we are not allowed to speak about that, and we are not allowed to answer specifics on those kind of investigative questions, to protect the integrity of the investigation.  I'm sorry.

Guy:  Some people are wondering why  you haven't been out in front, publicly, in the search for your daughter?

Rebecca:  This is not where we want to be.  I am not comfortable here.  I am not comfortable in front of the camera.  I don't like this.  At all.

Sergio:  Neither one of us. 

Rebecca:  The first week, honestly, all I wanted to do is just hide and cry.  I didn't want to be in front of you guys.  I wanted to be in sitting my room, crying.  (Becoming emotional).  It was hard enough to be with my kids and family, much less come and talk to you guys.  So I'm sorry if we did this wrong and we were supposed to be out there.  But that wasn't where I wanted to be.  I wanted to be with Isabel.  (Becoming emotional).  I didn't want to be here.  I don't want to be here.  I want her her with us, sitting.  I don't want to be in front of the cameras. I don't want my family to be in front of the cameras.  What I want is here home, and to have a normal life.  This is not what we want.  To be here in front of the cameras talking to the media, that is not us.

(Reporter:  what would you say to Isabel)?

Sergio:  We miss you so much.  We want you back.  We miss you so much.  Your brothers miss you so much.  We are willing to do anything and everything we can.   We are part of the volunteer groups, and we are going to be at these benefits, and we are going to be out in front.

Rebecca:  We always will love you too much.  Just come home.  We are out there putting up fliers with the volunteers.  It's not something that we need necessarily to have everyone see us do it.  We are going to do the softball, they are going to do a softball tournament.

Sergio:  The benefit concert on Sunday, yes.  They want me to be up there singing.  It's just if I feel I am going to be up and able to.  If I am up do it, I've spoken to my teachers and the conductor, I will try to go up and do one piece.  As far there being a march on Sunday, morning, I guess we are not sure, but we are going to do part of that.

(Reporter:  what do you say to people who say you've played a role in your daughter's disappearance?

Sergio: Nothing.  I don't know what to say to that other than that you are wrong.  Point blank, that is the best answer I can come up with. 

Rebecca:  We don't have anything to hide.  Say what you want to say. We are confident we had nothing to do with it. Go for it.  We are strong enough to take it and there is nothing you are going to find on us. Go  for it.  At the end of the day Isabel will be home and we'll know who did this.   The amount of prayers that are coming in, is amazing to me.  Right there that's where the concentration is to be, getting Isabel's face out there, praying for Isabel to come home.  All of the questions will be out there, who did it.  If they need to scrutinize us, if that's what they  need to waste their time on, we cannot help.   We need to get her face out there, and keep praying, and have the community  keep praying. The world is praying.  All those prayers, that's what's going to bring Isabel home.

Guy:  Do you have an attorney?

Rebecca:  We do not have an attorney.   Our support is with friends, and family, and God.  Every nigh we pray and have a rosary. 

Sergio:  Becky's family is still here.  We gathered together. 

Rebecca:  We try to do the rosary.  We laugh because we screw it up. And it comforts us.  We've never been this close to God.   Our support, our strength is coming from them, and then the community.  Oh, my gosh.   All those people who've put up so much effort.  If they've done so much, we have do have double that.

Sergio:  Again, we are still raising a family.  We still have to take care of our boys.  We have to be as strong as possibly, constantly talking to them, constantly praying.  We cannot tell you the gratitude and the level of prayer our little girl has brought to this world.  With the exception of 9 11, I cannot remember a worldwide chain of prayer that has been so significant.

(Question about family ties to Mexico and possible threats from Mexico)

Sergio:  No one that would be a threat.

Rebecca:  All my cousins, they love coming over, Isabel loves doing her hair, her makeup.  Everybody who knows Isabel is usually in love with her.  The community could tell you, that little girl is so special to too many hearts.

(You don't know anyone any money?)

Rebecca:  No.  We've never borrowed any money from anybody in our family.

Sergio:  That's a line we don't want to cross.  That's not us.

(Question about police)

Sergio:  They never told us not to speak to the media.  They were always leaving it up to us, right from the get go.  They never said don't do it.   But they did advise us, let us work, let us get this going, and to let Lt. Pacheco speak for us.  That was a step in the right direction. But even seeing that first press conference, we were a mess.   We didn't want the initial focus to be on us. We wanted to focus the investigation on Isabel.  We wanted to be right there for the police for anything they needed.  We didn't want them to feel we were too busy doing things like this.

(Guy:  question about timeline the night of the disappearance)

Sergio:  I would very much like to.  I just don't know if I'm allowed to talk about those specifics.

Guy;  Do you believe she was taken out the window?

Sergio:  Initially, but after investigating, and I don't want to go do far about that, I'm not sure.

(Reporter question about going back to the house.)

Rebecca:  It's hard to want to walk in there. She still had toys she was playing with.

Sergio:  Writing on the wall, crayons, everywhere you look, she is there.  The first night we were allowed back in the house, it was awful.  The four of us curled up on the held, held each other tight.  The boys even said how uncomfortable they felt there.  It was extremely painful, extremely painful.   We surrendered our house, and said, do what you will.

Rebecca:  Our little girl was taken from that house.  The security, it doesn't feel like it's there.  And they used a lot of chemicals for evidence collection, and we can't take the kids in there.  We can't risk our kids getting sick.

Sergio:  We asked if we could get the house cleaned now.  And they said yes.

(Reporter: was there a party, anyone but your family there Friday night)?

Sergio:  No

Rebecca:  The only people that were with us were immediate family.

(Guy: Should police have eliminated you as suspects by now)?

Rebecca:  Whatever they have to do, go for it.

Sergio:  Truthfully, yes, absolutely.  But we understand they 've gotta cover absolutely everything. And that is where we are with that.

(Reporter:  who was Isabel closest to?)

Rebecca: It's mostly us.  And her uncles, her aunts.

Sergio:  They share the same feelings as we do.  They are hurting as bad as we are.

(Guy:  when are you going back to work?)

Rebecca:  When I am at work, that is my priority, to be the best I can be.  It's hard emotionally to go back to work.  I almost feel like I am giving up on her, if I am not right there by the phone waiting for her.   We have to work to pay our bills.  Eventually we have to figure that out.

Sergio:  The office I work at every day,  have their full support.  Tremendous gratitude for the time they are giving me.  But I know I have to go back to work.  I am a surgical assistant.  There are a lot of surgeries.  And I cannot say enough about the Arizona Opera Company.

(Reporter:  what can we expect, will we be talking with you again?  Will there be a shift in your visibility)?

Sergio:  I believe so.  I am raising a family, protecting my boys. I do not want them on camera.  As much as we can, we are going to be showing you our thank yous by being there for you as well, and for the public, showing our gratitude.  But we really  need everyone to understand the real reason is protection of our family.

Rebecca:  It's not to the point where I think the media has caused them any danger. But I don't want their faces out there.  Not that they are in danger, I just want to keep them from being in danger.

Sergio:  Hearing that the media was still at the ball park over and over those first few days, things like that.  That's what kind of worried us. 

(Reporters:  any misreporting you want to clear up)?

Sergio:  We didn't even start watching some of the news until our statement came out.  We didn't even watch our interview yesterday.  We haven't seen anything you have seen.  None of that.  We really tried to stay away from it.  

Rebecca:  Family members, the little bit that they tell us, they don't tell us much.  So there is nothing really that I know of.  We don't want to know.

Sergio:  We don't want to play into that.   Maybe try to bait us out.  No.  Go ahead, if they've got to make a circus out of it, go ahead, that's why we stay out of it.  We don't want to feed into it.  We can only say so much.  We are being advised not to interfere with the integrity of the investigation.

Rebecca:  Are we going to make ourselves more available?  In my heart, if it has to do with bringing Isabel home, and getting her picture, by all means.  But if it's about my family, I'm sorry, I'm really not going to want to talk to the media.

Sergio:   Same as with the volunteers.  We want to be there as well.   But we want Becky's family to be there for us, and to start saying a few words to the camera.

Guy:  Some of our viewers wanted to know if you had been compensated by NBC.

Sergio: No, absolutely not.    I had some absolutely great video about Isabel.  All of that has been taken into evidence.  We had to surrender everything.   But it does kind of sting when we wish you could have some of those pictures back.

Rebecca;  Those pictures that we gave to NBC, it was not with the intention of selling it, we did not get anything back.  A couple of hours later we contacted the public information officer and asked if they could help get it to the local media.

(Reporter:  Is there a deep feeling you must have about where she is now?)

Rebecca:  No, it  just scares me.  We don't know where she is, she don't know if they're feeding her.  I hope she is not in a lot of danger. 

Sergio:  That she is at least well.

Rebecca:  I don't want to risk more.  I don't know what position she is in.  If we say something and hurts the investigating and hurts Isabel, to know that we screwed something else up and it hurts her, Oh, My God.

Sergio:  Stay focused, stay strong, keep your eyes and ears open.

Rebecca:  We really want to the community to keep praying for Isabel.  Please keep praying.  Keep your eyes open, please keep praying.

Sergio:  Thank you so much.  Thank you.

The quotes presented above are based on notes typed live in real time and should be considered approximate; this is not a transcript.  KGUN9 apologizes for any spelling errors, which are due to fast-paced note taking.