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Young girl slain

All roads leading to Rippon Road were blocked by law enforcement officials Saturday evening while investigating the homicide of 8 year-old Leila Fowler. Maggie Beck / Union Democrat, Copyright 2013.
Law enforcement officials this morning continued searching for a suspect in the slaying of an 8-year-old girl Saturday afternoon at her home in Valley Springs — a crime that has gained national media attention.

The Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office this morning was providing security around the school the victim attended, Jenny Lind Elementary, and school bus stops.

At a Sunday afternoon press conference, the Sheriff’s Office provided a few extra details about the victim and crime.

The girl was identified as Leila Fowler, who would have turned 9 in June.

The Sheriff’s Office has not identified any “persons of interest” but continues to investigate tips provided by the public, Capt. Jim Macedo said. 

He said the Sheriff’s Office obtained a search warrant for the Rippon Road home where the homicide occurred and found “a substantial amount of evidence,” including fingerprints and possible DNA. 

He said the DNA will likely be processed this week. 

The crime was reported about noon Saturday. The victim’s parents phoned 911 dispatchers after their son, 12, called and told them there had been an intruder in the house. He found his sister seriously injured.

The parents were at a public event nearby when their son called, Macedo said.

Fowler was taken to Mark Twain Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead.

Macedo said investigators were unsure what type of weapon was used in the crime. He declined to say whether a weapon was found at the scene and would not confirm widespread reports that the girl was stabbed to death.

An autopsy was scheduled today.

Macedo also declined to say whether officials believe the crime occurred in the course of a robbery.

Julie Hall, who lives on the 5900 block of Rippon Road, a few houses away from the crime scene, said she left her home to go into town about 2:30 p.m. Saturday and saw her street blocked off and lined with emergency vehicles. 

She also observed a low-flying helicopter earlier in the day.

Hall said a law enforcement officer told her there was a robbery down the street. The officer said the 12-year-old boy chased the robber off and, when he returned to the home, he found Fowler stabbed, according to Hall.

Macedo said the Sheriff’s Office has received tips from sources outside Calaveras County, and there have been similarities but also inconsistencies in suspect descriptions.

The Sheriff’s Office has given the following description of the person they are looking for: A man, about 6 feet tall, with long gray hair and a muscular build. He was seen wearing a long-sleeved black shirt and blue pants. 

No sketch had been drawn up by Sunday afternoon. 

Macedo said the boy and suspect did not have any physical contact.

Several agencies have aided in the search and investigation, including the Angels Camp Police Department, San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department, Amador County Sheriff’s Office, Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office, California Highway Patrol, Calaveras County District Attorney’s Office and California Department of Justice.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been notified but is not directly involved, Macedo said.

More than 100 law enforcement officials have worked on the case. 

Reverse 911 calls and Internet notifications by Nixle, a provider of mass alert services for public safety agencies, informed area residents about the incident and the search for the suspect, officials said.

“I was working on my tractor and a CHP copter kept flying over my house,” area resident Roger Ballew, 35, told The Associated Press on Sunday.

A SWAT team showed up at his house Saturday night and told him to stay inside, Ballew said.

“It was nerve-wracking, I didn’t sleep well,” he said.

Counselors, chaplains and other people trained in crisis response will offer support to students, parents and staff at Jenny Lind Elementary, Toyon Middle and Calaveras High schools.

“Our hearts and thoughts are with the Fowler family and we are ready to provide whatever support we can to the parents and siblings now and in the future,” Calaveras Unified School District Superintendent Mark Campbell said in a statement Sunday. “As we all grapple with the tragic and senseless loss of one of our own, we do so knowing that we will be ready to do what is necessary to provide a safe environment for students and for staff.”

Jenny Lind Principal Amy Hasselwander expects the response team to remain on campus for several days.

“We feel like the need is going to be pretty heavy,” she told The Union Democrat in a telephone interview Sunday.

Hasselwander said a fence at the school reads “We love Leila” in purple lettering. Purple was her favorite color.

A candlelight vigil is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Jenny Lind Elementary field.

Hasselwander said Fowler, a third-grader, had attended Jenny Lind since first grade and has siblings at several area schools.

She described Fowler as a “very strong student” with leadership potential.

Fowler was well-liked by adults and her peers and always greeted people with “good morning,” Hasselwander recalled.

“She was just always smiling, always kind words for everyone,” Hasselwander said. “She was just a beautiful, conscientious, responsible, kind girl.”

Union Democrat reporter Lenore Rutherford and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


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