Church Searched After Missing Girl Found Dead

TRACY, Calif. (AP) - Police investigating the death of an
8-year-old girl whose body was found in a suitcase dumped in a pond
cordoned off a church they planned to search Tuesday, a day after
questioning its pastor and taking a computer and other items from
his home.

Pastor Lane Lawless was stopped by a swarm of reporters Tuesday
as he drove by Clover Road Baptist Church with his wife, Connie. He
said he was questioned by police for three hours Monday night.
Connie Lawless said they were being interviewed because they live
down the street from the victim, Sandra Cantu, and their great
granddaughter played with her.

With reporters pushing up against their sedan, Connie Lawless
said the couple was fully cooperating with police. She said
investigators took phones and a computer, among other items, from
their home.

"We're very open to them taking whatever they want," she said.
"We feel the more people they can eliminate, the quicker they will
be able to get to the truth."

Connie Lawless said they had nothing to do with the girl's
abduction.

"She was the sweetest little thing. It breaks it our hearts to
think that anyone would take such a tiny little thing and abuse her
and murder her," she said.

Sandra's body was discovered a few miles from her Tracy home
Monday when farmworkers draining a pond to water nearby fields
found the suitcase. She was last seen alive March 27, skipping down
the street near the mobile home park where she lived.

An autopsy was planned for Tuesday. The gruesome discovery ended
a search that included hundreds of volunteers and law enforcement
officials, drew more than 1,000 tips and compelled people to put up
posters of the girl on storefronts, car windows and fire hydrants
all over town.

At a news conference Tuesday morning held across the street from
Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park and just steps away from a
makeshift memorial for Sandra, Tracy police Sgt. Tony Sheneman said
the church had been cordoned off and would be searched later in the
day. He said investigators had interviewed the church's pastor
Monday but didn't say why police were interested in the church.

Sheneman also said police searched a location at the park Monday
night, but wouldn't give any details.

Orchard Estates resident Penny Morgado said she saw several law
enforcement vehicles pull up to Lawless' home Monday. Resident
Katie Wales, 31, said a caravan of investigators swept into the
complex Monday and searched only the pastor's property.

Sheneman said police had interviewed everyone at the mobile home
park before Sandra's body was found. He said police were pursuing
many leads, and no one had been detained or arrested.

Sandra was found wearing the same clothes she had on when she
was last seen: a pink "Hello Kitty" T-shirt and black leggings,
Tracy police Chief Janet Thiessen said Monday.

"Our heartfelt sympathies go to Sandra's family and friends,"
Thiessen said. "We will determine the person or persons
responsible for this reprehensible act, and we will bring them to
justice."

On Tuesday, mourners left stuffed animals, cards and other
trinkets at a makeshift memorial outside the mobile home park,
which resembles an apartment complex, complete with a swimming
pool.

Wendy Rios, 29, and her sister-in-law Sabrina Cason, 31, brought
their two young daughters to drop off a bouquet of purple lilies.

"It's tragic. How could you do that to a little girl," said
Rios, as her teary-eyed 8-year-old daughter, Monica, held onto her.

Cason said she had a hard time explaining what happened to
Sandra to her three children.

"This has shaken our little town up," Cason said as she held
her 5-year-old daughter, Alyssa. "We're saddened. For her to be so
close to home and this to happen. I think we all had a lot of hope
that she would come home safely."

Tracy is a city of 78,000 about 60 miles east of San Francisco.


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