FBI Digs Under Church; Memorial For Sandra Grows

TRACY, Calif. (CBS13/AP) ―As residents in this quiet Northern California community questioned who would stuff an 8-year-old girl's body in a suitcase and dump it in a pond, police Tuesday searched a local church and questioned the girl's neighbors.

"I hope they catch whoever did this. I lived here my whole life. I used to feel safe, but I don't anymore," said 19-year-old Melissa Landrum, who lives in the mobile home complex where Sandra Cantu was last seen alive March 27 and had known the girl since she was born.

The investigation has touched on everyone who lives in the complex, including a pastor who became a focus Tuesday. Investigators cordoned off Pastor Lane Lawless' home and Clover Road Baptist Church for a search after questioning him for three hours the night before.

The Clover Road Baptist Church was cordoned off Tuesday afternoon as agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation combed over the property, hauling out items and bagging items found.

CBS13 cameras rolled as an agent from the FBI's Evidence Response Team crawled into an underground space and emerged with what appeared to be a pair of work gloves. The FBI has not commented on what they are searching for.

Officers searched the Lawless' home again Tuesday morning, along with four other homes in the complex, according to a maintenance worker who witnessed it.

Police point out that, contrary to some media reports, that Lawless has not been arrested, only questioned, "like hundreds of people," said Sgt. Sheneman. Officials stressed that they are not focusing on any one person in the investigation, but say the case is shaping up to head in a particular direction.

That direction, Sheneman said, is confidential. "To comment on that would compromise the investigation and I cannot do that," he said.

Despite officials' downplaying the significance of searching the pastor's home and church, retired FBI profiler Candace DeLong says authorities are legally obligated to justify their interest.

"They will have to have sworn before a magistrate they had reason to search that property," DeLong said. "They're not releasing that information now, but there has to be a reason he's a person of interest and they got a search warrant."

DeLong also believes that investigators already know the cause of death, but are not ready to release that information to the public. She says that, in 75 percent of similar cases, the killer will be a caretaker or relative of the child.

"The likelihood is that this is someone that saw her, that coveted her, that invloved her in his fantasies, then actoed out that fantasy," said DeLong.

The wife of Pastor Lawless says that they are cooperating fully with investigators.

"They took the usual stuff, phone, computer, things of that nature," said Connie Lawless. "We were very open to them taking anything they wanted to take. We were not at all disturbed by that. We feel that the more people they can eliminate the quicker they will be able to get to the truth of the matter."

Connie said she suspected that police were interested in her husband's church because Sandra often played at their house with their granddaughter. She said the Lawless family has nothing to do with Sandra's disappearance.

"It breaks our heart that someone would take such a sweet child," she said.

Officials say they suspect the culprit is a local resident, given the area that Sandra's remains were found in. She was stuffed into a suitcase and dumped into an irrigation pond, in a rural area about two miles from where she lived.

"I've lived here for almost 12 years, I've worked here for nine years," Sheneman said. "The location where Sandra's body was found I'm completely unfamiliar with. Someone would have to be familiar with the area to know to go there to place that suitcase."

A somber crowd gathered at a makeshift memorial for Sandra outside the mobile home park where she lived. Stuffed animals, flowers, candles and written prayers decorated the memorial as the ever-growing crowd stood mostly in silence.

One mourner fainted at the scene and was taken away by ambulance, according to CBS13 correspondent Laura Cole.

A local defense attorney and DNA expert that has worked on several famous cases -- including the Unabomber, O.J. Simpson and the Phil Spector murder trial -- says that critical details of the case will point police to Sandra's murderer.

"The fact that she was still clothed in the clothes she had [the day she disappeared] suggests to me that whatever happened probably happened very quickly," said Bob Blaiser.

Surveillance video showed Sandra Cantu skipping away from her mobile home park the day she disappeared, and Blaiser says that was opportunity the killer was waiting for.

"It may have been what attracted the person who kidnapped her, the fact that she was also alone," Blaiser said.

The fact that Sandra was found so close to her home suggests that the murder was a crime of passion, he added.

Blaiser criticized the Tracy Police Department's handling of the case, saying that they took too long to bring in scent dogs to track down the missing eight-year-old girl, a move he said could have "absolutely" saved her life.

"It's very sloppy police work," Blaiser said. "They can't think of everything, but that's sort of the very obvious thing that you expect them to think about."

Scent dogs did search the park and around Sandra's home the day after she went missing, and Blaiser says her scent was most likely gone by that point.

Sandra Cantu's father publicly defended the Tracy Police Department for their work in the case and expressed his appreciation for their dedication.

"They're doing everything possible," Daniel Cantu said. "I don't think anyone else put in this position could've done any better."

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