Sandra Cantu buried today during private service

A picture of Sandra Cantu, 8, at a make-shift memorial after her body was found. Press file photo.

Family, friends and city leaders gathered for a private burial today for slain 8-year-old Tracy girl Sandra Cantu.

A horse-drawn carriage brought her tiny body from Fry Memorial Chapel to the Tracy Mausoleum shortly after noon today.

Sandra’s mother was “like a rock” during the service, said Tracy police Sgt. Tony Sheneman after the burial. TV news crews gathered outside the cemetery grounds to film as much of the service as they could from a distance.

A few dozen people attended, including several police officers who last week arrested a 28-year-old Sunday school teacher on suspicion of killing the little girl.

Melissa Chantel Huckaby was arraigned Tuesday on charges that she kidnapped, raped and then murdered Sandra on March 27.

Sandra lived in the same mobile home park as Huckaby with her mother, three older siblings and her grandparents. Surveillance footage that captures the girl’s last moments alive shows her skipping playfully toward Huckaby’s house, five doors away from her own home.

It was the last anyone ever saw of her, before her body was found 10 days later stuffed in a suitcase someone dumped in a manure-filled pond on a north Tracy dairy.

“She became an angel to the community,” said Tracy Unified School District Superintendent James Franco of Sandra, a Jacobsen Elementary School second-grader.

Her disappearance drew hundreds of volunteer searchers and nearly 20 agencies on the case. Photos of the blonde-haired brown-eyed girl were plastered on utility poles, car windows and bulletin boards all over Northern California.

It became a familiar face, especially to Tracy.

The national interest in her search brought and the sordid fascination sparked by recent charges against Huckaby of murder and rape likely mean a crowd of thousands will show up for her public memorial service on Thursday.

Organizers have prepared for as many as 8,000 guests, but there’s only enough parking for 500 cars.

The public service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday at the West High School gym, 1775 W. Lowell Ave.

For information, call the memorial chapel at 836-1970.

• Contact Tracy Press reporter Jennifer Wadsworth at 830-4225 or jwadsworth@tracypress.com.

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