Victim's family surprised mother's fiancé a suspect in slain girl's death

The family of 12-year-old Talaija Dorsey is surprised her mother’s longtime fiancé is a suspect in her slaying, describing John D. Celestine as a “quiet” guy who spent a lot of time on the computer and was not one to offer many details about his past.

“It’s just a shock to us,” said Lailah Lang, 16, who is Talaija Dorsey’s cousin and was with other family members in Dorsey’s mobile home Monday in the community of St. James.

Celestine, 43, 8303 Pecan St., St. James, has not been arrested in Dorsey’s slaying but sheriff’s deputies say he is a suspect and has been booked on counts of obstruction of justice and false communications.

St. James Parish Sheriff Willy Martin Jr. said Judge Guy Holdridge, of the 23rd Judicial District, set Celestine’s bail Monday on each of those counts at $100,000.

Martin said his office would not release details Monday about Dorsey’s autopsy, including the cause of death. Martin found Dorsey’s body Sunday at the edge of a cane field off La. 3127 southeast of where Celestine, Dorsey and her family lived on Pecan Street off River Road.

The site is at the edge of woods along a gravel road and within sight of whizzing traffic on La. 3127. Cane fields extend into the distance east of the road and beyond a large ditch.

Martin said in a news conference Sunday that he searched areas along Celestine’s route to work and found Dorsey in an area that could be quickly accessed.

Members of the Dorsey family said Celestine works as a contractor at a plant in Waggaman, which can be reached from St. James Parish by La. 3127 and U.S. 90.

Database searches into Celestine’s criminal history in Louisiana and Texas, where Celestine had lived in the past and has children, revealed little that would suggest he could have been involved in Dorsey’s slaying.

He had a seat belt citation in St. James in 2010 and has been arrested on a theft and cited on traffic counts in Jefferson Parish, according to court filings and a Jefferson Parish sheriff’s spokesman. Celestine was arrested on a misdemeanor battery charge in Orleans Parish on Sept. 12, 2002, said Philip Stelly, Orleans Parish sheriff’s spokesman.

More information on that count was not immediately available Monday, but New Orleans Municipal Court officials said the charge was dropped a day later.

Family members, including Talaija’s grandfather, Lawrence Smith, 58, said they knew little about Celestine’s past even though Celestine had lived with Talaija’s mother, Emma Dorsey, for about five years.

The two had been engaged for two years and, Lawrence Smith said, they also have two young children together, a 4- and 5-year-old.

“He was like a mystery man,” said Tamia Smith, 15, who is Talaija’s first cousin.

Emma Dorsey’s brother, Lawrence Smith Jr., 37, said Celestine has other children in Louisiana and Texas. Smith said the children from Texas visited Celestine in St. James about three weeks ago.

Neighbor Gregory Ford, 60, who lives next to the Dorseys on Pecan Street, said Celestine is quiet guy who went to work every day and did not seem to have friends over at his mobile home.

“He was like he just wanted to stay to himself,” Ford said.

Smith Jr., who lives in a mobile home behind Dorsey’s home, said Celestine initially helped with the search for Talaija when she first was discovered missing early on July 1.

Talaija was not in her bedroom at 7 a.m. when her mother went to look for her. A friend had stopped by so the two could go to summer camp, deputies have said.

But Smith Jr. said Celestine got quiet once deputies found Talaija’s slippers in an out-of-use minivan in front of the Dorsey home.

“After that slipper, he just shut up,” Smith said.

He said the minivan had engine trouble, was not running and so was being used to store things. Smith asserted that Talaija’s slippers, which cousin Lailah Lang said Talaija often wore to go outside, were out of place in the minivan.

When asked, Smith Jr. said he did not think there was any dispute between Celestine and Talaija that might have led to a fight because if there were, everyone on Pecan Street would have known.

Smith Jr. said he is having a hard time realizing what has happened. He said Talaija had played with his 1-year-old son at his home the night before she went missing.

By Monday, family, friends and neighbors marked the site where Talaija’s body was found with a small bouquet of plastic flowers, partially deflated balloons and two stuffed bears, including a panda bear with the words “Hugs & Kisses” on its chest.