TRACY, Calif. _ The family of Melissa Huckaby preached of strength during adversity as they led an Easter service in their tiny Tracy, Calif., church today, speaking for the first time about the 28-year-old murder suspect and the death of Sandra Cantu.
“People think we’re going on business as usual,” said Brett Lawless, Huckaby’s uncle who delivered the sermon. “Nothing will be as usual after the events of the last 10 days. Not for the community, not for the church, not for our immediate family and certainly not for the family of Sandra Cantu.”
After the services, Huckaby’s grandmother and the wife of the church pastor spoke to reporters.
“We’re just as shocked,” Connie Lawless said. “This is completely outside of what we know of Melissa.
“It’s been difficult for all of us. It’s surreal,” she said.
A congregation of about 20, along with a throng of media, sat in Clover Baptist Church, a half-block away from Orchard Estates Mobile Home Park where Huckaby was arrested Friday night on suspicion of kidnapping and killing Sandra _ a playmate of Huckaby’s 5-year-old daughter.
Huckaby, a volunteer Sunday school teacher at her grandfather’s church, is being held without bail at San Joaquin County jail and is expected to be arraigned Tuesday.
Huckaby has turned down all media requests for interviews. Her family said today they have not been allowed to speak to her since her arrest and they know nothing of the investigation and what may have happened the day Sandra went missing.
Police have not revealed details about Sandra’s death, including where she was killed.
Huckaby’s father, Brian Lawless, said he was at a preacher’s conference in Salinas when he heard news of his daughter’s arrest. He informed his wife Judy, who has been on a planned vacation to Northern California with Huckaby’s 5-year-old daughter Madison since the day after Sandra went missing.
“We just cried together on the phone,” Brian Lawless said. “We just cried and tried to figure out how we are going to get through this.”
Brian Lawless said family members were struggling to “wrap their heads around” the allegations against Huckaby, who he described as an excellent mother who showed patience and compassion to all children.
Huckaby was raised in Orange County and graduated from Brea-Olinda High School in 1999. She moved to Tracy seven or eight months ago to help her grandparents, then decided to stay and enroll her daughter in kindergarten, family members said.
Her father said Huckaby’s only known emotional issues stem from a divorce.
Just days before her arrest, Huckaby was released from the hospital. Relatives said she suffers from stomach ulcers.
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Many of Huckaby’s relatives, from a deeply religious family, attended today’s Easter service. Brett Lawless led the hour-long emotional sermon, focusing on finding joy through God in times of pain and adversity. A special prayer was made for the Cantu family.
The relatives stressed they wanted to invite the media and public into the services to be open and show they were not hiding anything.
Tracy Mayor Brent Ives said his community has gone through a whole spectrum of emotions over the past couple weeks.
“We’ve been through the whole gamut. (The arrest) was just another shocker,” he said.
The community has endured “more than its share” of soldier deaths, an Oakland police officer shot and killed in the line of duty and a torture case that drew national attention, the mayor said.
“At this point and time, we’re trying to get over the loss and reconcile the allegation we have in front of us,” Ives said. “We have to try our best as a community to help each other through the grieving process.”