April 16, 2009— -- Melissa Huckaby can't wait for the media firestorm surrounding 8-year-old Sandra Cantu's murder to blow over so she can go back to teaching Sunday school and raising her young daughter in peace.
That's because another woman named Melissa Huckaby, now sitting in a nearby California jail cell, grabbed headlines last week when she was accused of raping and murdering the Tracy, Calif., second-grader.
On paper, the similarities are spooky -- both women have lived in Tracy, where Sandra was murdered, both have 5-year-old daughters, both are divorced, both teach Sunday school, and they are the same age. And of course, they share the same name.
"We thought maybe it would blow over," Melissa Huckaby told ABCNews.com in one of a series of interviews she's conducted to clear her name. "The more serious it got with her charges, it kind of scared me a little bit."
Huckaby, 28, lives with her parents and two small daughters in Manteca, Calif., about a 10-minute drive from Tracy, where she lived until four years ago and where much of her family still resides. She said she has never met the Melissa Huckaby accused of murdering Sandra and never even knew she existed before seeing the news of her arrest last week.
Her mother, Cyndi Huckaby, said the case of mistaken identity started even before any arrest was made.
On Friday, April 10, the day before the other Melissa Huckaby's arrest was announced, "I had a news van pull in front of my house, and 45 minutes later, I started getting calls," Cyndi Huckaby said.
Some of the local media, tipped off that a newspaper's interview with the Tracy Melissa Huckaby was likely leading to her arrest, had mistakenly zeroed in on the other family's Manteca home.
Terrified that the wrong woman, his daughter, might be picked up for the crime, Cyndi Huckaby said her husband immediately contacted Tracy police to make sure they knew there was more than one Melissa Huckaby in the area and their daughter had nothing to do with Sandra's murder.
A private funeral was held Wednesday for the second-grader whose body was found stuffed into a suitcase in an irrigation pond in Tracy 10 days after she disappeared from the Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park, where the accused Melissa Huckaby also lived with her grandparents and daughter.
Wrong Huckaby Picture 'Plastered All Over the Country'
Some of the local news stations and Web sites, Cyndi Huckaby said, began running her daughter's picture with their story, lifted from the Manteca Melissa Huckaby's MySpace account.
"Her picture has been plastered all over the country," Cyndi Huckaby said.
One by one, they called, demanding the picture be removed.
Even people Huckaby has known for years, both in Tracy and in Manteca, were questioning her, staring when she went out to the grocery store.
"People don't always think things over before drawing a conclusion," she said, adding that she and the accused Melissa Huckaby don't even share any relatives that she knows of.
Once news of the arrest hit the national arena, the nasty Internet messages and phone calls started.
Huckaby said she had to shut down her MySpace page Saturday, but not before reading messages "calling me a child killer, telling me they hoped I would rot."
There were also death threats made on the site and to her family, specifically her uncle, who still lives in Tracy.
"It's just been incredible," Cyndi Huckaby said. "Of course, now I'm checking every Web site on the news to make sure they're not showing my daughter's picture."
Huckaby, who works in accounting, said she's grateful her daughters have their father's last name so they are not targeted in school, though she's made school officials aware of the situation.
"I've been trying to keep it away from them," she said, adding that she had to explain to her eldest daughter why her friends were seeing her mommy's picture on the news.
She also makes sure someone in her family knows where she and her children are at all times.
"My parents want to make sure I'm safe," she said. "There's some really weird people out there."
Keeping Melissa Huckaby Safe
Manteca Police Capt. Rex Osborn told ABCNews.com today that they are aware of the problem and have counseled the family on how to protect themselves but can't do anything unless a direct physical threat is made and they can verify where it came from.
"The concern for her isn't something locally," he said. "Our communities are very aware of what is what."
Huckaby is a common name in that part of California, he said, noting that she was very unfortunate to share her exact name -- different middle initials -- with a woman who's been accused of one of the most heinous crimes the county has seen.
That's why Huckaby said she's sharing her story with anyone who will listen, in hopes that she'll again feel comfortable in her hometown.
"I want my family to be safe. I want my kids to be safe," she said. "It's crazy."
Cyndi Huckaby said the family was horrified by Sandra's murder and she wanted to send a condolences to her family. Now, she said, she is afraid make contact because of her last name.
"We just want it over," she said. "And we feel so bad for that little girl's family. I can't even imagine what they're going through."