Trash searched for any clues in Tracy girl's disappearance

TRACY — Volunteers and police are searching a Tracy waste facility for evidence in the case of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu, who has been missing since Friday.

Police, who said they will be at the site all week, called the search routine and said it is part of the larger investigation.

Police Sgt. Luis Mejia said police haven't received any tips or other information that the girl is not alive.

"All we're doing is looking for any information that may be relevant," Mejia said Wednesday. "We're having the volunteers sift through the trash for any information that may pertain to the case."

Bulldozers and other machinery brought loads of trash into a covered loading area. There, about a dozen volunteers sifted through paper plates caked with food scraps, empty cereal boxes, yard clippings and other refuse.

"I just wanted to help," said Mike Maciel, a city councilman who is retired from the Tracy Police Department. He said they were primarily looking for clothing Sandra was last seen wearing, which could possibly indicate that she had been kidnapped.

The facility is about seven miles south of Orchard Estates Mobile Home park, where Sandra lives with her mother and other family members and where she was last seen about 4 p.m. Friday. Police have received more than 500 tips.

Surrounded by media at morning and afternoon news conferences Wednesday, police released few details.

Police Lt. Jeremy Watney said police have been told that Sandra had talked about running away. He said it would be unusual for a child her age to be gone this long. They also are looking at a man who once kissed Sandra. Watney said police, who were notified at the time, are examining the outcome of that report.

Watney also took questions about Sandra's father, Daniel Cantu, who does not live with his daughter. There have been reports that he had been at the trailer park recently and talked about going to Mexico. Watney said investigators have been talking to him and that he made an unexpected visit to the police station Wednesday morning.

"He was just coming to find out about his daughter," Watney said.

Nicholle Stevenson, a friend, said the focus should not be on Daniel Cantu.

"He's here, he's looking for her," Stevenson said. She said he is from Tracy and only recently moved to Mexico.

Watney said investigators, including the FBI, have not given up.

Meanwhile, those who know Sandra are trying to cope with the uncertainty.

Tracy Unified School District spokeswoman Jessica Cardoza said school officials have been working with police, who wanted to talk to some of the second-grader's classmates. The district sent out a recorded phone message to parents about the girl's disappearance last weekend, and a letter was sent home Monday.