Friday, Jan. 19, 2018 | 2 a.m.
In a short video filmed on Christmas Eve, Celia Luna wears a wide smile and spreads corn dough onto a corn husk, telling overjoyed loved ones, “Here, casually making tamales. If not, we won’t be able to eat,” before breaking out into her contagious laughter.
A week after the 55-year-old grandmother was slain in a possible failed attempted robbery, her daughter, Sheyla Padilla, other grieving family members, and Metro Police officials gathered feet from the central valley check-cashing business where Luna was gunned down shortly after arriving to work on Jan. 11.
Investigators continue to search for two suspects — described as possibly being as young as 16 — and who wore dark hooded sweatshirts and blue surgical-style masks when they followed Luna into the business in the 1400 block of Jones Boulevard, near Vegas Drive, police said.
They fled, taking nothing and leaving a family to grieve the loss of the woman who “was laughter,” Padilla told reporters as she held back tears. “She was smiles, she was joy, she was the light of the room.”
“Help our family,” Padilla said. “We can’t grieve her properly with this hanging over our head.”
The family wants to know that “there’s going to be some type of justice for her, because she really didn’t deserve this,” she said.
Luna was just starting her day at work when she was followed inside by the two suspects, at least one of them armed with a revolver, McGrath said. Inside, they followed her into the back of the business where there was a safe with some sort of delay system.
It wasn’t immediately clear what occurred, but gunfire broke out, striking Luna in the back. The suspects then ran out through the back without taking anything, McGrath said. Luna called 911 about 9:15 a.m., and she died at University Medical Center from the gunshot wound.
The crime was likely planned due to the suspects apparently casing the business and wearing masks, McGrath said.
They are believed to have worn the same outfits when they tried open to the business’ door about 24 hours before the shooting, but witnesses who saw them did not alert police, Metro Lt. Dan McGrath said. One of them wore red Nike Air Jordan sneakers, possibly a Retro 13 model.
The fact that the suspects were on foot and ran to an apartment complex on Jones, across from the shopping center, led detectives to believe they could be younger males who frequent nearby areas, McGrath said.
In typical fashion, during the Christmas Eve gathering last month, Luna was the life of the party. Cooking tamales is tedious work, but every reunion turned into an event in which Luna took center stage. “She wasn’t doing much," Padilla said jokingly, "but she was entertaining us.”
She brought over fedora and elf hats, and “Michael Jackson-style” gloves for her entire family to wear, letting out joyous and loud laughs as she posed for photos. She loved to dance, Padilla said. “We have not told a story of sadness when it comes to her.”
“We’re sad, but she lived a good life,” Padilla said. “She knew her blessings; she was amazing.”
Luna’s philosophy on life was positive, and it’s evident by phone calls received by her family from around the U.S. and Mexico from customers and others she’d befriended during interactions while at her job. During hikes, Padilla said, Luna would bring plastic bags and pick up trash along the way. “I’m doing my little part,” she would say.
Her mother was cautious but never fearful, Padilla said. She loved her children and grandchildren and her friends and family. She subscribed to the idea that if something bad is going to happen, “It’s going to happen.”
“She would always say, ‘You could find fear or bad people or bad circumstances even in the best of places,’” Padilla said.
Padilla wouldn’t address the “cowards” who killed her mother because “no matter what I say to them, they’re not going to empathize with my heart. They’re not going to empathize with my family.”
Her message instead was for the Las Vegas community, “If anybody deserves justice … it’s her. She really does.”
“With something so unexpected as this was,” Padilla said crying. “To not have that little bit of closure, it makes it more unbearable.”
McGrath said investigators are confident they will bring the killers to justice. “We’re not giving up on this case … we’re hopeful that we’re going to solve this.”
On Thursday afternoon, the business was closed. Religious candles, flowers, a teddy bear, and a ceramic praying angel sat near the entrance. The remnants of yellow crime scene tape was wrapped around a nearby tree.
Police are imploring anyone who lives in the area and who may have surveillance systems, to check their cameras in the timeframe when the incident occurred.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Metro at 702-828-3521 or via email at [email protected] To remain anonymous, contact Crime Stoppers at 702-385-5555 or online at crimestoppesrofnv.com. The owner also is offering a reward.