TRACY, Calif. (AP) — The body of an 8-year-old girl was found stuffed into a suitcase that had been dumped in a pond, and police in this Northern California city planned to search a church Tuesday as they investigated her death.
A massive search for Sandra Cantu ended a few miles from her home Monday, when farmworkers draining the pond to water nearby fields found the suitcase. She was last seen alive March 27, skipping down the street near where she lived at Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park.
An autopsy was planned for Tuesday.
More than 100 mourners — some holding candles, others wiping away tears — gathered outside the mobile home park Monday night while police blocked the entrance.
At a news conference Tuesday morning, Tracy police Sgt. Tony Sheneman said Clover Road Baptist Church had been cordoned off and would be searched later in the day. He said investigators had interviewed the church's pastor Monday and before the girl's body was found.
Sheneman did not say why the church was being searched.
A message left with the pastor listed on the church's Web site, Lane Lawless, was not immediately returned. A resident of the mobile home park, Penny Morgado, said Lawless also lives there and that she saw several law enforcement vehicles pull up to his home Monday.
Sheneman said police searched a location at the mobile home park Monday night but he did not say whether anything was found. He said no one has been detained or arrested, and that everyone at the mobile home park was interviewed before Sandra's body was found.
Resident Katie Wales, 31, said that the caravan of investigators that swept into the complex searched only the pastor's property.
The mobile home complex does not fit the stereotype of a downtrodden trailer park: It resembles an apartment complex, complete with swimming pool. Wales, who has lived there most of her life, said she can't believe what happened.
"It's like they came in and stole our little girl and threw her away like trash," Wales said. "It makes me sick. We're all family here."
Sandra's disappearance sparked a widespread search that included hundreds of volunteers and law enforcement officials, including the FBI, and drew more than 1,000 tips.
Pictures of the girl with dark brown eyes and golden 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.
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. 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."
Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press