Relatives of a US Sunday school teacher arrested in the killing of an eight-year-old girl found stuffed into a suitcase said they are baffled by the accusations against the woman they know as a loving, single parent.
“I just can’t comprehend. There are no words,” said Brian Lawless, the father of 28-year-old Melissa Huckaby, who is being held in San Joaquin County Jail, California on suspicion of kidnapping and killing Sandra Cantu.
Mr Lawless met with reporters outside Clover Road Baptist Church in Tracy, where the family attended Easter services.
The church is just down the road from the mobile home park where Sandra was last seen.
Among the family members present was Huckaby’s grandfather, Clifford Lawless, who is pastor of the church, which was searched by authorities after the girl’s body was discovered.
Sandra’s body was found in Huckaby’s suitcase in an irrigation pond nearly a week ago, police said.
Brian Lawless said Huckaby lived for her five-year-old daughter, Madison.
“She just always had an extra patience with her. Never raised her voice. Never yelled. Never struck her,” he said. “She was that same way with other children. She loved other children.”
Madison played often with Sandra, who lived down the street from where Huckaby lived with her grandfather. Huckaby taught Sunday school at her grandfather’s church.
The motive in the killing had not been determined.
Huckaby was on suicide watch at the county jail, where she remained in custody without bail.
Huckaby’s uncle, John Hughes Jr of Whittier, said his niece was from a good home, but had hit a rough patch in her life and had moved in with her grandparents in Tracy to get past her troubles.
“They opened their home up to her to try to get her life back on track. I think a lot of families have problems like that,” Mr Hughes said.