Motive a mystery in Cantu murder

April 11, 2009 6:00:30 PM PDT
Police say they know the "who" in the mystery over Sandra Cantu's disappearance, but do not yet know "why." Melissa Huckaby is facing charges in the Tracy 8-year-old's kidnapping and murder.

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Melissa Huckaby is a Sunday school teacher and a mother.

Police spoke to the public in front of the mobile home park Saturday morning. It is the same mobile home park where the suspect lives and where the victim was last seen alive.

Investigators say they are sure Huckaby is behind the murder of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu. She is accused of kidnapping and killing Sandra just moments after a surveillance system recorded the little girl skipping through her neighborhood.

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

Often times Melissa Huckaby's 5-year-old daughter played with Sandra. The suspect, who teaches Sunday school at nearby Clover Road Baptist Church, lives with her grandparents just five doors down from Sandra.

Huckaby's grandfather Lane Lawless is the church's pastor. His home and a church have been searched several times. Just one day after Sandra's body was found in a suitcase two miles from the mobile home park, he and his wife told reporters they had nothing to do with Sandra's disappearance or death.

"She was the sweetest little thing and it just breaks our heart to think that anyone would take such a tiny little thing and abuse her and murder her," said Connie Lawless, Huckaby's mother.

Police will not say if the Lawless' knew anything about what their granddaughter is accused of, or if the murder even took place inside their own home. But, a close friend of the family told ABC 7 she was sure the Lawless' are innocent.

"They are honest, decent people. So, they knew nothing about it," said Mary Jones. "They know nothing more than the rest of the community does."

While the Lawless' may be innocent, police say they are sure Melissa Huckaby is not. The 28-year-old told a local newspaper the suitcase Sandra was found in looked like hers, which had been stolen. But, she never reported it to police.

Huckaby's inconsistent statements are the reason investigators now believe they have the right person and the only one responsible in custody.

Huckaby was on suicide watch at the San Joaquin county jail Saturday evening and is expected to be arraigned on Tuesday. She is being held without bail.

Public Grieving Place:
Fry Memorial Chapel
550 South Central Avenue
Tracy, CA
Hours: 10-4 on Saturday, Sunday and Monday

Public Service for Sandra Cantu:
Thursday, April 16, 2009
1 p.m. - People are asked to arrive early since there will be limited parking
Merrill F. West High School
1775 West Lowell Avenue
Tracy, CA

The reward for information leading to an arrest in Sandra's case has risen to over $30,000.

Anyone with information is urged to call the Tracy Police at: 1-209-831-6TIP

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