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Horrific crime takes toll on town's police

A memorial program bears an image of Sandra Cantu, whose disappearance and death are a blow to police.

Associated Press

A memorial program bears an image of Sandra Cantu, whose disappearance and death are a blow to police.

TRACY, Calif. — Detective Nate Cogburn's last few months have been filled with the stuff of nightmares.

Neighbors charged with shackling and torturing a teenager in a Tracy home. A substitute teacher accused of molesting upward of 15 students. A surgeon arrested for the alleged sexual abuse of dozens of patients. And, most recently, a Sunday school teacher charged with kidnapping, raping and murdering the playmate of her own little girl.

Police in the San Francisco suburb of 80,000 people were especially stressed by the disappearance and murder last month of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu. The department's sworn officers and staff pulled 2,966 hours of overtime on that case.

Cogburn worked 200 hours in two weeks in the search for Sandra and her killer.

Sandra disappeared from her mobile home on March 27. Cogburn got the call hours later, after the funeral of a Tracy resident who was one of four Oakland police officers gunned down after a traffic stop.

He and others worked 36 hours straight. "The difference between finding her alive or dead might be a few minutes, so we wouldn't leave," he said.

On April 6, farmworkers pulled a suitcase from an irrigation pond. Sandra's body was inside.

It was a blow to the officers who had worked so feverishly. "It wasn't going to be the ending we were all praying for," Cogburn said.

Investigators forged ahead, knocking on doors, searching neighboring mobile homes and a nearby church, where 28-year-old Melissa Huckaby taught Sunday school and her grandfather preached.

Police later arrested Huckaby in the killing. She could face the death penalty.

Cogburn remains haunted by the case.

"I feel nothing in terms of a sense of relief or solace. I feel nothing but devastation. Nothing," he said. "It is a good thing that we've identified a suspect — a good thing for the investigation, for the D.A.'s office, for being able to close this case, hopefully for the family. But emotionally it's a vacuum."

Horrific crime takes toll on town's police 04/25/09 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 4:49pm]

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