Where are the parents? Celis family's low profile bucks official advice

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Where are the parents? Celis family's low profile bucks official advice

CREATED May 1, 2012 - UPDATED: May 1, 2012

Reporter: Craig Smith
Web producer:  Forrest Carr

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - The public face of the search for little Isabel Celis has consisted of a series of friends, concerned citizens and high-ranking Tucson Police officers -- not her parents, who've ventured out in public just once.  This week police made it official:  they hope Isabel's parents will change their approach.  Advice from those who know something about missing child searches suggests that parents in such cases should maintain a high public profile.

While police say they will probably curtail their briefings because they have few new, hard information they can share with the public,  experts in missing child cases say parents can hold the public attention longer because of the emotions they can convey, and the sympathies they can evoke.

Sergio and Rebecca Celis did make one public appeal five days after they reported their daughter missing.   Last Wednesday Rebecca Celis said, "We do not want the focus to be taken off Isabel, by us being in front of the cameras or by the media."

Since then the parents have kept their distance.  A church service over the weekend with special emphasis on Isabel was closed to the public.

Monday police said it would help if the family were to raise its public profile.   Lt. Fabian Pacheco said, "We've said all along we think it's important to keep the investigation in the forefront, to keep tips coming in so we made that known." But he added, "Whether they choose to do that or not, I've said all along it's entirely up to them."

The Celis family seclusion stands in sharp contrast to how the father involved in another high-profile child disappearance handled his case.  Ed Smart, father of Elizabeth Smart, helped make his daughter's disappearance one of the highest profile cases of its type ever to make the public eye.

Smart told KGUN9 News that no matter how hard it may be, parents should try to keep an active public presence.   "The public, they become engaged when the parent talks about the child and asks for that help.  It's not the same having a law enforcement agent or somebody else going out.  The parents and the family have a huge impact on trying to find the daughter."

In Smart's case, the story had a good ending.  Public interest remained high.  Elizabeth eventually was found, having been kidnapped by strangers. Smart resumed her life.  She told KGUN9 last week that she is doing just fine, and is closely following the Celis case now.

But not everyone agrees parents in such cases have an obligation to lead a public crusade for the return of a missing child.

Kathy Rau leads the Southern Arizona Children's Advocacy Center.   Prior to that she spent 25 years as a TPD detective, helping parents cope with missing children. She is careful about applying too much pressure on families of missing children.

"I think we have to be very careful not to pass our own judgment or what we think we would do in that situation onto people that are actually going through the trauma.  We can all say, yes I would be in front of the camera every minute.  But God forbid that we be in that position and actually know what that is like." 

Local police aren't the only source of official advice suggesting that families in missing child cases step it up.  The U.S. Justice Department has gone so far as to publish a guide for families that have a missing child. It strongly advocates the idea of parents keeping a high profile in order to stoke the public's interest in the case.  The manual offers coaching on how to make the most of media exposure but also reminds parents they are in control of when to offer interviews and under what circumstances.

Ed and Elizabeth Smart's interviews with KGUN9 News can be found in the "related articles" section on the left side of this page, beneath the photos.