Fri, April 17, 2009
World > Americas

Thousands mourn girl, 8, found in suitcase

2009-04-17 01:23:21 GMT2009-04-17 09:23:21 (Beijing Time)  SINA.com

Maria Chavez, center, sits between her daughters Miranda Chavez, left, and Simone Chavez during a memorial service for her slain daughter Sandra Cantu Thursday, April 16, 2009, in Tracy, Calif. Cantu's remains were found in a suitcase last week. (AP Photo)

Kelly Thompson, 31, holds a memorial program, during the Sandra Cantu memorial held inside the West High school gymnasium in Tracy, Calif. on Thursday April 16, 2009. (AP Photo)

Joe Chavez, weeps during a memorial service for his slain niece Sandra Cantu Thursday, April 16, 2009, in Tracy, Calif. Cantu's remains were found in a suitcase last week. (AP Photo)

Daniel Cantu, right, is seen beside his brother Ricky Cantu during a memorial service for his slain daughter Sandra Cantu Thursday, April 16, 2009, in Tracy, Calif. Cantu's remains were found in a suitcase last week. (AP Photo)

Mourners stand in line beside media trucks as they wait to enter a memorial service for Sandra Cantu Thursday, April 16, 2009, in Tracy, Calif. Thousands were expected to attend a public memorial service for the 8-year-old girl police suspect was kidnapped, raped and murdered by her friend's mother. (AP Photo)

Several thousand people gathered Thursday to remember an 8-year-old girl who most only knew as a smiling face on flyers but who many felt close to after the massive search for her body.

Family members and community leaders recalled Sandra Cantu as an exuberant, loving girl who enjoyed skipping down the city's streets. Her remains were found last week in a suitcase pulled from an irrigation pond near her home.

"This little girl, Sandra, in two weeks became much more than a little girl who lived down the street in a town in California," Tracy police Chief Janet Thiessen said. "Sandra Cantu became our little girl, a child whose spirits touched us as we searched for her and prayed for her safe return."

An overflow crowd of more than 600 people watched the ceremony on a screen in the high school's cafeteria and listened to it through speakers on the football field. Many in attendance wore T-shirts with the little girl's face.

Sandra's relatives, including her mother, father and sisters, lined the front row of the school gymnasium, holding each other and crying at times.

Images of Sandra graduating from preschool, blowing out birthday candles and opening Christmas presents played on two screens at the auditorium.

Sandra's aunt, Angie Chavez, thanked supporters for their help in the 10-day search for girl, who disappeared March 27, and the outpouring of sympathy in the days after her body was found.

A local Sunday school teacher whose daughter was a playmate of Sandra's has been accused of the killing. Melissa Huckaby, 28, who lived just a few doors down from Sandra's family, was arraigned Tuesday on charges that she kidnapped, raped and murdered the child.

"For this time, lay down your judgment, your bitterness, your rage, so that our remembrance is done in love and dignity," Tracy police chaplain Don Higgins told the crowd. "And in so doing, we can begin to take the first steps of healing and renewing our strength together."

Mayor Brent Ives said life would go on in Tracy, a small city 60 miles east of San Francisco, but not as it had before.

"The community will forever be changed, different," he said. "Hopefully, very keenly aware of the evil in this world and cautious and wiser, trusting yet verifying, but definitely stronger as a community as we watch over one another and one another's children."

(Agencies)

Add Your Comments:

Your Name:
Your Country:
Comment:
(English Only)
 
Please read our Terms of Service. Messages that harass, abuse or threaten others; have obscene or otherwise objectionable content; have spam, commercial or advertising content or links may be removed.

SPECIAL COVERAGE

MOST VIEWED

LATEST VIDEO

PICTURE GALLERY