Family: Calif. girl found dead killed by ‘monster’

TRACY, Calif. (AP) âÄî Police have served more than 15 search warrants in their attempt to hunt down whoever killed an 8-year-old girl and stuffed her body in a suitcase, but say they “don’t want to rush to judgment” and so far have no suspects in the case. Sgt. Tony Sheneman said everyone has been cooperative, but he declined to give many details about who was questioned and why, and what was seized during searches of a local church and mobile home park this week. “We feel a great deal of pressure. We want to find who is responsible for this,” Sheneman said Wednesday. “We don’t want to rush to judgment and we don’t want people tried in the press.” Sandra Cantu was last seen alive March 27, when she was caught on a surveillance video skipping down a street near her home at Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park. A massive search ended Monday when her body was discovered stuffed in a suitcase that was dumped into a pond only a few miles from her home. There has been an outpouring of grief from the community and residents have set up a makeshift memorial outside the complex with balloons, stuffed animals, cards and flowers. Passers-by have paused to pray, cry and drop off items. Joe Chavez, Sandra’s uncle, said the death was “ridiculous, absurd and grotesque.” “It’s complete innocence taken for absolutely no reason,” he said, adding that a police chaplain informed the family of the death Monday. “When that word came in, I heard screams that I’d never heard come out of human beings before,” he said. “Primal screams of love and fear like the worst horror movie you could ever watch.” “There’s a monster out there,” said Jose Chavez, Sandra’s grandfather. Sandra’s cause of death has not been revealed. An autopsy has been completed, but results were pending, said Les Garcia, a spokesman for the San Joaquin County coroner’s office. On Tuesday night, investigators searched the Clover Road Baptist Church about a half-mile from the mobile home park. Sheneman would not say what was taken from the site. Investigators also interviewed the pastor, Lane Lawless, who lives in the same complex as Sandra’s family. The pastor’s wife, Connie Lawless, told reporters the couple had nothing to do with Sandra’s killing, and law enforcement was interested in them because they lived near her and she played with their great-grandchild. At the makeshift memorial Wednesday, Candice Vega, who identified herself as a cousin of Sandra’s family, took pictures of the items left in tribute to the little girl. She said the family appreciated the outpouring of support and was focusing on the search for the killer. “They’d better find who did this,” Vega said. “They don’t have a choice.”