LAS VEGAS (AP) — Celeste Flores-Narvaez has retraced her younger sister’s last known steps for days now, sacrificing rest, food and time with her children in her cross-country search for answers.
No one, it seems, knows where the Las Vegas burlesque dancer is.
Deborah Flores-Narvaez’s story has grabbed national headlines since the beautiful dancer went missing more than a week ago. For Celeste, unraveling the mystery has become a mission. She has led her family’s desperate pleas for help.
“I’ve been working 23 hours straight for the past week and barely eaten,” the 32-year-old told The Associated Press. “But I just got to keep going.”
Deborah, 31, has been missing since Dec. 12, when she said goodbye to her roommate and headed out to visit an ex-boyfriend, Jason “Blu” Griffith, police said.
She failed to show up two days later for a performance of “Fantasy,” the nightly burlesque show at the Luxor hotel and casino where she worked.
Celeste has been on the hunt ever since. She flew from her home in Atlanta, leaving her two young children with her mother, to search for her sister in Las Vegas last week.
She met with her sister’s friends, slept in her apartment and begged police detectives for answers. She gave interviews to CNN and local broadcasters, imploring anyone with information about her sister to call the police. On Facebook, she asked her sister’s friends to show her around. She always wanted to watch her sister dance, but, weighed down by the responsibilities of motherhood and work as a secretary, she never made the time to visit Las Vegas before.
Celeste explored the run-down neighborhood where her sister’s 1997 Chevrolet Prizm was found abandoned in a vacant lot, its Maryland license plate removed. Neighbors there told her it was a popular dumping site for criminals.
She subsisted primarily on coffee and water, shedding seven pounds in six days from her petite frame.
She said she is going to stay in Las Vegas indefinitely, skipping Christmas with her children, so that she can continue the search.
“My kids are my first priority,” she said, the only time her voice cracked with emotion during a phone interview. “But so is finding my sister.”
The siblings grew up just outside San Juan in Puerto Rico, before eventually moving to Baltimore, Md.
Deborah studied business and took a finance job after college.
She served as an ambassador for the Washington Redskins in 2007, a non-performing position that sent her into the community. She longed, however, to perform on a stage.
She made the jump in 2008, leaving her family on the East Coast and moving in with two roommates in Las Vegas to pursue a career in dance. Friends said she was hired at some of the Strip’s poshest nightclubs — Haze at the Aria hotel and Jet at the Mirage hotel and casino, among others.
“In Maryland, you can only go so far,” Celeste said. Las Vegas offered, “bigger lights, bigger city, bigger opportunities.”
Just before Deborah went missing, she landed a solo in the Fantasy show, dancing next to “Thong Song” singer Sisqo, who is doing a guest stint with the Las Vegas Strip revue.
“It was a huge accomplishment,” Celeste said. “She worked her way up and worked really hard for it.”
When Deborah missed the performance, friends were certain something was wrong, and a roommate reported her missing.
Days later, news reports cited an arrest report that claimed Deborah had gotten into a brutal fight with Griffith more than a month before she went missing. The report said she told police she was pregnant with his child when he pushed her, kicked her and yanked out a chunk of her hair. He told police the argument never became physical.
Celeste said her sister never mentioned the fight — or the pregnancy.
Shortly before she went missing, Deborah sent her mother a text message that said if anything ever happened, Griffith was her emergency contact. The family didn’t think anything was amiss.
“It is one of the those, ‘Hmm, I don’t know exactly what it could mean’ text messages,” Celeste said.
The older sister called Griffith before arriving in Las Vegas.
He said Deborah told him she was returning to her home off the Las Vegas Strip when she left his house. Griffith has not returned or answered her phones calls since that brief conversation.
Police have questioned Griffith, who was cooperative, and talked to those who knew Deborah. But they have no leads or evidence suggesting she’s been harmed.
Celeste said she doesn’t believe her sister would take off without telling anyone.
“This is nowhere near Debbie,” she said. “This just isn’t something she would do.”
Celeste said she is starting to fear the worst.
“Someone did something to her,” Celeste said. “These dancers are beautiful. They do have fanatics, they do have stalkers.”
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)