Private investigator offers insight into Isabel Celis search

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The clock is ticking, yet there are many questions about the search for 6-year-old Isabel Celis.  A local private investigator offers a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes after a child disappears.

Michele Yontef has been a PI for about 20 years, and she's helped reunite ten children with their families years after their cases went cold.

"The most challenging case was a child who was missing for 10 years," Yontef said.

She is not working on the Isabel Celis case, but she says in-home abductions are extremely rare.  According to her stats, out of  50,000 children kidnapped last year, only 18 were snatched from their homes by strangers.

"I think police would definitely want to interview in great detail any family member because they have to leave all avenues of possibility open."

Until they issued a statement Wednesday afternoon, April 25, not much had been seen or heard from the Celis parents.  They had not made a public plea for the return of their daughter.

Before they made their statement, Yontef said the parents may be acting on the advice of law enforcement, but there are benefits to addressing the media.

"If you have an emotional connection with your audience, you're giving them the drive to team up as part of your investigation," Yontef said.

"I know that if any of my children were missing I'd be flagging people down," parent Angela Martinez said.  She hopes police are withholding certain details because they're on to something.

"It's the most important thing is to stay positive.  You know you start thinking negative then people start giving up."

Another parent is confused by the parents' initial decision to stay out of the public eye, but she empathizes with them.

"I don't really understand what the family is going through, you know?  You never do until you're placed in that situation," Cabrena Blackburne said.

Yontef says social media chains are important in maintaining interest and awareness.  Without it, a missing child case can go cold.

"After all of the protocols that have been established are exhausted there's not much more that can be done."

So far there has been no word on a suspect, but investigators wrapped up their search of the Celis home Tuesday, April 24.  Yontef says certain items of evidence, or the lack of evidence, can provide clues to who took the little girl.

For example, if a suspect knows the child they are taking, they may try to lure the child away from home by allowing the child to bring things they like.

"So they're going to say something like we're going to go on a short trip so get your favorite pillow and your toys and that identifies the story that occurred."

Though days have passed, Yontef says locating a loved one is still possible.

"Investigators have taken cold cases and found children ten or more years down the line.  There is no reason to give up hope."

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