ST. JAMES — The St. James Parish Sheriff’s Office broadened its search Thursday for a missing 12-year-old girl to nearby parishes where her mother’s fiancé, John Celestine, owns wooded property, Sheriff Willy Martin said.
Family members said deputies arrested Celestine on Tuesday evening after they searched a white minivan and found Talaija Dorsey’s slippers inside the van.
Talaija was discovered missing from her Pecan Street home in the St. James Community early Tuesday morning when she was supposed to go to summer camp with a friend.
The white minivan, which was up on blocks when it was searched, was moved from the front yard of the family’s home late Wednesday or early Thursday by the Sheriff’s Office.
The St. James community home where Talaija, her mother and Celestine live is owned by Talaija’s grandfather, Lawrence Smith, who also lives there.
Smith said Thursday that he watched deputies handcuff Celestine, 43, and take him into custody.
“They came and searched his car. They handcuffed him right there,” Smith said, standing in his front yard on Thursday, with his cousin Lenora Watts.
Celestine was booked late Wednesday into the St. James Parish jail in Convent on a count of felony obstruction of justice and a count of false communications, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Deputies called Celestine a “person of interest” in the child’s disappearance and said that “due to the potential of additional charges, elements of the investigation involving John Celestine are not being released.”
Martin said Thursday that deputies were searching and clearing wooded property in Assumption Parish owned by Celestine.
Deputies also were searching in Jefferson Parish where Celestine works in construction, Martin said.
Smith said his daughter, Emma Dorsey, has been engaged to Celestine for about two years but had known him much longer.
Emma Dorsey was at the Sheriff’s Office talking to deputies Thursday, her father said.
Smith said deputies have told him they “have no idea, none at all” about what may have happened on Tuesday morning and what led to Talaija’s disappearance.
Celestine, who lived in Houston before coming to St. James, remains in custody, awaiting bail.
Watts said Thursday that she remains hopeful for Talaija’s safe return.
“Everyone is just praying. The community is praying,” Watts said.
Talaija was discovered missing about 7 a.m. Tuesday when a friend came to her house to go with her to a nearby summer camp. When Talaija’s mother went to get her, the child was not in her bedroom.
Martin said Talaija was last seen by a family member, a younger sister, at 5 a.m. Tuesday.
The FBI, State Police and other area law enforcement agencies are assisting the St. James Parish Sheriff’s Office with searches on the ground and in the air, Martin said on Wednesday.
Anyone with information regarding the location of Talaija Dorsey or information about her disappearance is asked to call the St. James Parish Sheriff’s Office at (225) 562-2200.