Body of missing girl found in suitcase

April 7, 2009 6:03:12 AM PDT
The body of a missing 8-year-old girl has been found in a suitcase dumped in an irrigation pond a few miles from her northern California home. Sandra Cantu was found Monday after a 10-day search, authorities announced.

Authorities would not comment on their investigation, but they roped off the mobile home park where Sandra lived. They had previously searched several homes and towed several cars from the park.

No suspects had been identified.

"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."

Authorities planned an autopsy to determine the cause of death.

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

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 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.

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 found by farmworkers who were draining the irrigation pond to water fields.

Investigators cordoned off the area for hours while they searched the area for clues. The suitcase was eventually opened at the coroner's office, where Sandra's body was positively identified.

More than 100 mourners - some holding candles, others wiping away tears - gathered outside the mobile home park Monday night while 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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