PORTERVILLE, Calif. - Gravediggers work the old-fashioned way on the Tule River Indian Reservation, chipping away at the hard pan by hand with pickaxes and shovels. They say it's a sign of respect not to use machinery, but never has the crew had to dig so many at one time.
On Monday, the brothers who run the reservation cemetery were preparing to dig a grave for Alyssa Celaya, 8, who died Sunday after a rampage that also took the life of her grandmother and the grandmother's two brothers.
The brutal murders have shaken this peace-preaching tribe because it goes against their teachings that love for family exists above all. Law enforcement authorities said the killer was Alyssa's father, Hector, who also died Sunday after a shootout with sheriff's deputies. They were trying to figure out why he did it.
Celaya, 31, also wounded his two other children, one suffering life-threatening injuries.
Murder is unheard of, said Mike Blain, chief of the reservation's 4-year-old police department.
"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. "We need to identify what happened, so we can identify it in the future. We have to talk to the family. We're going to learn what happened before this happened."
The department's only serious dealing with Hector Celaya was a call in April from the mother of his children, who accused him of driving while intoxicated with the children in the car, an accusation that Blain said was unfounded and part of a "child-custody dispute." He referred the case to the tribe's version of Child Protective Services. Details are private.
Police say Celaya opened fire Saturday night in a travel trailer on the reservation of about 800 people, killing his mother and two uncles. He left behind his seriously wounded son Andrew, 6. He took with him Alyssa, whose name is tattooed on his right leg, and his other daughter, 5-year-old Linea.
Tulare County Sheriff's spokeswoman Chris Douglass said it was unclear when Celaya shot his daughters.
Tribal members said the former custodian at the reservation's Eagle Mountain casino had a troubled past.
"He had a real hard life," said Rhoda Hunter, the tribal council secretary. "But all of us do, we all have a hard time. But we try not to let it get the best of us."
Authorities said the bodies of Irene Celaya, 60, and her brother Francisco Moreno, 61, were found in the trailer. The body of their brother Bernard Franco, 53, was in a shed that was a makeshift bedroom.
"We've had a lot of deaths here, but nothing like this. Not murder," Hunter said. "No, not murder."