Sunday School Teacher Booked in Sandra Cantu's Murder

PHOTO This image, left, provided by the San Joaquin County Seriffs department shows the booking photo of Melissa Huckaby taken Saturday April 11, 2009. Huckaby, a Sunday school teacher, has been arrested and charged with kidnapping and killing

The arrest of Sunday school teacher Melissa Huckaby, 28, of Tracy, Calif., on suspicion of kidnapping and killing 8-year-old Sandra Cantu, whose body was found stuffed into the teacher's suitcase in an irrigation pond, has brought little relief to a shocked community.

Huckaby's arrest, which came shortly before midnight Friday, dealt a double blow to close-knit Tracy, already shattered by young Sandra's death. The arrest brought little relief to the family, only disbelief that it was someone who lived just a few doors down from the Cantu home.

Police gave no motive for the killing, but believe Sandra was killed soon after the video showing the second-grader skipping in her neighborhood March 27 was recorded.

murder suspect

"I hope she rots for this," said Amber Austin, a Tracy resident. "You have no right to take an innocent child's life."

With young Sandra's suspected killer now behind bars, the child's family has begun the grim task of planning her memorial next Thursday.

Huckaby has a 5-year-old daughter who was one of Sandra Cantu's playmates. She said in a published interview that Sandra had visited her home March 27, the day she vanished.

"She can still see her little girl grow up," said Joe Chavez, Cantu's uncle. "We don't get to see that."

"It's unusual for a woman, statistically, according to the FBI, to be involved in anything like this," Tracy Police Sgt. Tony Sheneman said.

After a massive search, Sandra's body was found April 6 inside a suitcase floating in an irrigation pond. Police said the suitcase belonged to Huckaby, who for unexplained reasons had told a local newspaper the suitcase was missing.

Investigators said Huckaby drove herself to the Tracy police station Friday night and underwent nearly six hours of questioning. When they snapped the handcuffs on her and placed her under arrest just before midnight, she cried, they said.

"She revealed enough information that we had probable cause to arrest her for both kidnapping and murder," Sheneman said.

Sheneman added that Huckaby initially took the charges hard.

"She became very emotional," he said. "Then she became relaxed again, then became resigned to what was happening."

Huckaby is a Sunday school teacher in Tracy, a northern California town of about 78,000 people about 60 miles east of San Francisco. She lives in the same trailer park where Sandra disappeared and is the granddaughter of a local pastor whose Clover Road Baptist Church was the scene of a very intense police search last week.

Huckaby was also scheduled to appear in court April 17 to check in with a county mental health program as part of a three-year probation sentence for petty theft.

Sandra Cantu's Body Found in Suitcase

Sandra Cantu's body was found Monday, stuffed into a suitcase in an irrigation pond a few miles from her house, 10 days after she was reported missing from the Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park.

Sandra had told her mother she was going to visit a friend. The last known image of the child was a surveillance video showing her skipping happily down the street.

Until the arrest, the police remained relatively mum on the progress of the murder investigation, which included interviews with dozens of people and a search of the church.

The police have assembled more than15 search warrants for both people and places.

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