Arrest of woman for killing 8-year-old stuns California town

TRACY, Calif. — Everybody was on the lookout for "the monster, the madman who would do this," the police spokesman said.

Instead, investigators said it was a neighbor — the mother of one of her best friends — who kidnapped and murdered 8-year-old wisp Sandra Cantu, then stuffed her little body in a suitcase and dumped it into a dairy drainage pond.

On Saturday, the day before Easter, Tracy police announced they had arrested and booked Melissa Chantel Huckaby, 28. As a Sunday school teacher, she ministers to the youngest of her pastor grandfather's flock at the city's Clover Road Baptist Church.

"Finding out it's a woman responsible for Sandra's kidnapping and murder, and finding out it's a member of the community is another blow, and finding out it was someone Sandra's family knew is a double blow," Tracy Police Sgt. Tony Sheneman told reporters Saturday.

"Our community will start to heal at some point," Sheneman added. "Today is going to be a very difficult day for everyone to be able to digest that."

Tracy Police Chief Janet Thiessen has said that the little girl was probably dead by the time she was reported missing March 27.

Authorities did not disclose how Sandra was killed or where the homicide took place. They also wouldn't say if Huckaby confessed, or why the crime even happened.

"I couldn't begin to theorize what her motive is," Sheneman said.

Sandra's aunt, Angie Chavez, said, "We are very glad that they apprehended someone for this."

A nine-person entourage that included Huckaby's grandfather, the Rev. Clifford Lane Lawless of the Clover Road church, descended on the San Joaquin County jail around 3 p.m. Saturday to visit her. The family members, who could not get in for a visit at that time, declined to comment on the arrest.

The victim and the suspect lived about 75 yards away from each other in the Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park, about two miles from the agricultural area where Sandra's body was found Monday.

Read the full storyat