She almost stayed home.
Lexis Kaye Roberts, 12, wasn't feeling well on Sept. 4, the day her mother was to take her to Arizona for a weekend outing.
Her mouth was sore because her braces had been tightened that week. Moreover, she didn't care much for Steve Sanders, her mom's new boyfriend. He had also been invited.
"She had reservations (about the trip)," recalled her grandmother, Mary Woodburn. "She was complaining about not feeling good, and I asked her to stay with me if she didn't want to go. But her mother said, 'I made the plans for you, so let's just stick to them.' "
That was the last time Woodburn saw her granddaughter alive.
Lexis' skeletal remains were found a month later in rural Louisiana. She had been shot several times.
Thomas Steven "Spider" Sanders, 53, last week was named the prime suspect in the slaying of the Las Vegas girl and is wanted on a federal kidnapping charge.
Police say he bought ammunition the day before the trip in the same caliber as the gun used to kill Lexis.
Woodburn's daughter, Suellen Roberts, 31, remains missing.
"We just need to find my daughter now. That's the main focus," Woodburn said. "Why didn't they return? What happened? I just need to know."
She said her daughter first met Sanders in May at Pacific Mini-Storage, near Pecos and Russell roads in southeast Las Vegas. Roberts, unemployed since January, had stored her furniture there after she and Lexis were forced to move in with Woodburn.
Woodburn said Sanders worked under the table as a night watchman and handyman at the business, where he also lived. He was infatuated with Roberts from their first meeting, and the feeling was mutual, she said.
"She was very smitten with him," Woodburn said. "Suellen was down on her luck and depressed about her job situation, her housing situation. He was buying her anything her little heart desired at the time. He always said, 'Hey, beautiful,' when he called."
She and Lexis were not as taken with Sanders.
Woodburn said she told Roberts to stop accepting gifts from a man she barely knew and who might expect something in return.
Lexis just missed her mother, who began spending much of her time with Sanders , she said.
"Lexis was just upset that her mother was gone every night of the week, going out and stuff," Woodburn said. "She really didn't say too much about it, but I could tell. I guess she was just uptight about her mom being away."
Woodburn said she expressed concern about the trio's planned Labor Day weekend trip to Bearizona Drive-Thru Wildlife Park in Arizona, just a few months after Roberts and Sanders began dating.
Roberts brushed her mom's opinion away and didn't even tell her which hotel they planned to stay at.
"I just kept telling her not to leave the state with someone you don't know," Woodburn said.
No one really knew who Sanders was anymore -- not even his own family.
In 1994, he was declared legally dead in Mississippi after he abandoned his wife and children. According to Mississippi court records, his family told a Pike County judge they had had no contact with him since 1987. Since then, he has lived largely off the grid, doing odd jobs or salvaging scrap metal.
In the years since he was declared dead, Sanders has been arrested for various crimes, including possession of drug paraphernalia and several traffic and motor vehicle incidents, all in Tennessee. He was also sentenced to two years in Georgia for simple battery, according to records found by The Associated Press.
State and federal authorities said some of the charges involved minors, but they refused to elaborate.
Woodburn said police told her Sanders has been accused of sexual assault and battery of children, but gave no details.
"He's a danger to society and women and children, especially," she said. "We just need justice, for Lexis' sake."
Patricia Cloutier, Woodburn's sister, lives in New Hampshire, where both Lexis and her mother were born. Roberts moved to Las Vegas eight years ago, looking for a better job and a better life in the booming city, Cloutier said.
Most summers, Lexis would spend at least a few weeks with Cloutier in New Hampshire. Both teachers and having no children of their own, Cloutier and her husband had ample time to spoil their great-niece, who was a joy to be around, she said.
"A joy that we will miss so, so much," she said in a telephone interview from her home. "We'll have to find that joy and think of her in other ways now. She was taken all too soon, and all too brutally."
Cloutier said Lexis was a happy child who never had a negative thing to say.
Even when her mother struggled with finances, Lexis never became depressed or angry about their situation, she said.
"Bad things didn't effect her," she said. "She was not afraid to smile big, with that mouth full of braces. She smiled big, she hugged big and she loved big."
Lexis was looking forward to the start of classes at Silvestri Junior High in Las Vegas, but disappeared just 10 days into the fall semester. She had signed up for band and was determined to learn to play the viola.
"Unfortunately, that never happened," said Cloutier. "Maybe she's playing it as an angel."
Woodburn and Cloutier both said their thoughts constantly drift to Lexis and to Roberts, whose fate is unknown. They hope authorities will find her, and catch Sanders, who they believed was culpable long before police called him a suspect.
"America's Most Wanted," which airs on Fox on KVVU-TV Channel 5 at 9 p.m. Saturday, will showcase the slaying of Lexis and search for Roberts this week. Authorities have few leads, and the FBI asked the show to broadcast Sanders' photos to a national audience, correspondent Angeline Hartmann said.
Sanders is described as being 5 feet 8 inches tall, 200 pounds with brown eyes. He has only two lower teeth, and is reported to have a tattoo on his chest and a scar on his stomach. Although he was last known to be in Louisiana, he could be anywhere now, authorities said.
"Anything that involves children certainly is a big consideration for us," Hartmann said. "Everything points to him (Sanders) being a predator of children, and anyone who hears about this case is just angered."
Woodburn said she shares that anger, but the past few weeks have worn her down.
She doesn't want anyone else to feel what she's felt in the past few months, she said, especially at the hands of Sanders. An arrest would guarantee that.
"If he's behind bars, we know he won't destroy another family like he has ours," she said.
Contact reporter Mike Blasky at mblasky@review journal.com or 702-383-0283.