April 16, 2009— -- The town of Tracy, Calif., is preparing to say goodbye 8-year-old Sandra Cantu today, but the folks in this San Francisco suburb are also struggling to understand a rash of crimes against their children.
On the day that a preacher's daughter was arraigned on charges of raping and killing Sandra, a man who had been a substitute teacher in Tracy's schools for the last five years was in another courtroom in the same superior court to face charges he molested about a dozen children and possessed child pornography.
These twin shocks came just months after an emaciated teenager, with shackles still around his ankle, escaped the clutches of the family he had been living with.
"This area has never experienced anything like this," Tracy Unified School District spokeswoman Jessica Cardoza told ABCNews.com. "These past few months have been very difficult."
The area was particularly alarmed in the days after Sandra went missing, she said.
"We didn't know if someone in the community would be preying on another child," she said.
Andrea Stagmeier, a Tracy mother of four and the PTA co-president at Sandra's Jacobson Elementary School, said the adults in Tracy are dealling with the murder and other crimes "a lot worse than the kids are."
Sandra's murder hit particularly close to the Stagmeier home -- her youngest daughter Grace, 7, was a recess and after-school playmate of Sandra's and the two would switch desks in their second-grade classrooms for different subjects.
Telling Grace, who had watched her father join the search for Sandra, that her friend was found dead was "was the hardest thing I've ever done."
"She didn't understand how somebody could do that," Stagmeier said.
It's a question the adults in Tracy are grappling with as well, especially when the person alleged to be responsible was a Sunday school teacher who many in the community trusted with their children.
If seemingly normal people can commit the types of crimes seen recently in Tracy, she said, "then what about your neighbors? What about other people at the schools?"
Sandra's private funeral services were held Wednesday. Her casket, covered in messages written by her family and her second-grade classmates, was carried down the street in a horse-drawn carriage. A public memorial service is scheduled for today.
ABC News has learned that the woman charged in her death, Melissa Huckaby, has received credible death threats, prompting high security during her court appearance.
Tracy made the news back in December when a 17-year-old emaciated boy came into the In-Shape Sports Club with a padlocked chain around his ankle, asking a gym employee to hide him. He was dirty, seemed confused and appeared to have been beaten, police said.
Tracy police arrested four people in the case on a variety of abuse charges: 44-year-old Carmen Ramirez, the boy's aunt, Kelly Lau Schumacher, 31 and her husband, Michael Schumacher, 34 and their neighbor Anthony Waiters, 30.
Police told ABCNews.com in December that the boy had been living with the Shumachers after running away from a group foster home in 2007.
Witnesses said last year that he had jumped a fence to get into the gym, a short distance away from the Schumachers' home. According to local media reports, all four have been indicted and all but Schumacher, who has not entered a plea, have pleaded not guilty.