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Calif. Sunday school teacher booked in death of Sandra Cantu

TRACY, Calif. - Tracy police said Saturday after arrestinga Sunday school teacher that they still didn't know the motive forthe killing of an 8-year-old girl whose body was found in asuitcase dumped in an irrigation pond.

>> View photos of the Sandra Cantu case

Melissa Huckaby, 28, was arrested late Friday about five hoursafter she drove herself to the local police station at the requestof officers, said police Sgt. Tony Sheneman.

Huckaby was being held without bail in connection with the deathof Sandra Cantu, the San Joaquin County sheriff's office said.

Sandra disappeared on March 27 and hundreds of volunteers andlaw enforcement officials turned out to search for her. On April 6,farmworkers draining an irrigation pond found the suitcase.

Huckaby walked into the police station and started aconversation with officers, Sheneman said at a news conference.

"She was calm, cool and collected, then she became veryemotional .... She went back and forth from being calm toemotional."

Eventually, she became "resigned," Sheneman said.

Inconsistencies in her story led to her arrest, Sheneman said.There are no other suspects and no other arrests are expected, hesaid.

"I couldn't begin to even theorize what her motive was," hesaid.

>> View photos of the Sandra Cantu case

Sheneman had earlier told The Associated Press that interviewswith Huckaby in The Tracy Press had revealed inconsistencies thatprompted further inquiries from investigators.

"I want to know why she did it, if she did it," the slaingirl's aunt, Angie Chavez, said in a phone interview with TheAssociated Press early Saturday. She said she had no indicationearlier that Huckaby could be a suspect.

Huckaby's family had been questioned at length during theinvestigation, and their home and vehicles had been searched,Sheneman said.

During an early morning news conference, Tracy Police ChiefJanet Thiessen said investigators had worked on the case tirelesslybut that they probably were too late to save Sandra.

"We have information that Sandra, by the time she was reportedmissing to us, that she probably had already been murdered," saidThiessen.

"It has helped us to bring Sandra home, again not in the waythat we would've hoped, but that was out of our hands shortly aftershe went missing."

Neighbor Barbara Sokoloski, whose home is behind Sandra's,described Sandra on Saturday as "a friendly sweet little girl whoalways went around trying to find somebody to play with."

"It's too bad that kids these days can't go out and play likewe did when I was a little girl," said Sokoloski, 69.

>> View photos of the Sandra Cantu case

Huckaby had previously told The Tracy Press that Sandra visitedher home on the day of her disappearance to play with her5-year-old daughter. But Huckaby said she'd turned Sandra awaybecause her daughter needed to pick up her toys and Sandra went toanother friend's home. Huckaby also said she had left her suitcasein the driveway that day, and that it was missing.

The Tracy Press reported that Huckaby was released Thursday fromSutter Tracy Community Hospital, where she spent several days inintensive care for what she described as "internal bleeding."

Huckaby is a granddaughter of Pastor Clifford Lawless, whoseClover Road Baptist Church was the subject of a police search.Huckaby taught Sunday school at the church and lived with Lawlessin the Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park that also was Sandra'shome.

Lawless did not immediately respond to a call seeking commentSaturday.

Huckaby was scheduled to appear in court on April 17 to check inwith a county mental health program as part of a three-yearprobation sentence for a petty theft she pleaded no contest to. Inan interview with the newspaper on Friday, Huckaby said someoneelse by the same name was facing charges for the attempted Novembertheft from Target.


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