Search for girl engulfs Tracy

TRACY — Police and volunteers continue to scour this small city, combing canals and fields and sifting through garbage in search of clues to the whereabouts of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu, who was reported missing a week ago.

On Friday, a California Highway Patrol helicopter also was helping look for the girl.

"We're just devastated here," Sandra's aunt, Angie Chavez, said Thursday. "Trying to hold out hope that she's coming home soon."

Hundreds of tips have come in, said Tracy police Lt. Jeremy Watney. "From videotapes to psychics, there isn't a single lead that's being dismissed or that's being ignored until it's investigated," he said.

Pictures of the girl with dark brown eyes and light brown hair are posted all over town, on business fronts, car windows and fire hydrants in this Northern San Joaquin Valley city of 78,000.

In downtown, nearly every shop front — hair salons, tire shops, a quilting store — had a small poster with Sandra's photographs plastered on the window.

At the Mi Esperanza meat market and taqueria on Central Avenue, shopper Danny Dekasha said, "The whole community has come together. It's a tragic thing."

Cashier Omar Mendoza said parents were keeping their children close. His 4-year-old son stood beside him at the cash register, and several shoppers entering the store held tightly to their children's hands.

Police have characterized Sandra as a missing person but have not said whether they believe she was abducted. They have not identified any suspects in her disappearance. She was last seen March 27.

Investigators have searched several homes and towed four cars from the Orchard Estates mobile home park, where the girl lives, but Watney would not comment on what prompted the searches or what may have been found.

The girl's father, who lives in Mexico and works in Southern California, was in Tracy this week and contacted police, said Watney, who declined to say more about the discussions.

The father, Daniel Cantu, who grew up in Tracy, told the Tracy Press that he has not seen Sandra for a year.

Jo Gutierrez, who lives near the mobile home park, is among those who have looked for the girl. Gutierrez wiped away a tear as she talked about living so close but knowing so little.

"I feel like how can it happen?" said Gutierrez, who often walks her dog past the mobile home park. "I try to think, what did I see that day? And I couldn't come up with anything at all.

"Everybody's thinking — What happened?"

Chavez, the girl's aunt, broke down as she talked about the case.

"Sandra, we love you so much. We want you home," she said, sobbing. "Whoever has her, let her come home. We miss her. We love her."

Anyone with information should call the Tracy Police Department at 831-4550 or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 800-843-5678. The Carole Sund/Carrington Foundation is offering a $22,000 reward for information that leads to Sandra's safe return.

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