Body of missing girl found in suitcase

April 7, 2009 7:41:02 AM PDT
Authorities roped off a mobile home park where an 8-year-old northern California girl was last seen, searching for clues to her death after her body was found a few miles away inside a suitcase left in an irrigation pond. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Police would not comment on the investigation into the death of Sandra Cantu, who was found Monday after a 10-day search, but they had previously searched several homes and towed several cars from the mobile home park where she lived.

Authorities planned an autopsy on the body to determine the cause of death.

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

Thiessen said Sandra was found wearing the same clothes as when she was last seen on March 27: a pink "Hello Kitty" T-shirt and black leggings.

Sandra's disappearance sparked a massive search effort that included hundreds of volunteers and law enforcement officials, including the FBI, and more than 1,000 tips.

Pictures of the girl with dark brown eyes and light brown hair were posted all over town, on business fronts, car windows and fire hydrants in this city of 78,000 about 60 miles east of San Francisco.

During the search, police had characterized Sandra as a missing person but would not say whether they believed she was abducted. Investigators had refused to comment on what prompted the searches at the mobile home park or what they had found. No suspects have been identified.

Investigators said they spoke last week to the girl's father, Daniel Cantu, who lives in Mexico and works in southern California. Authorities would not give any details of the discussion, but the father told the Tracy Press newspaper he had not seen his daughter for a year.

Police said the suitcase was discovered by farmworkers who were draining the irrigation pond to water fields.

Before the evening's announcement, investigators cordoned off the area surrounding the pond for hours and combed it for clues, as television trucks and reporters gathered in the flat farmland nearby.

The suitcase was removed from the pond later in the afternoon and taken to the coroner's office, where it was opened and the little girl's body was positively identified.

More than 100 mourners -- some holding candles, others wiping away tears -- gathered outside the mobile home park Monday night, as police blocked the entrance.

"I am still in shock," said Brandy Robles, 27, who held her 2-year-old son. "You see this in the movies. I never thought it would be real life -- real to me."

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