Ponds near murder scene searched

Christina O'Haver, The Union Democrat

Law enforcement officials over the weekend wrapped up their first full week investigating the murder of 8-year-old Valley Springs girl Leila Fowler by retracing searched areas and probing new angles.

Sunday, a pair of dive teams searched a pair of ponds near the Fowler home on the 5600 block of Rippon Road. It was unclear Sunday night whether they found anything.

Assisting law enforcement agencies from Amador, Tuolumne and San Joaquin counties also completed re-canvassing the neighborhood around the Fowler home. Investigators interviewed about 300 area residents between Saturday and Sunday, in hopes of finding a witness or new lead.

"We are making some serious progress on this case," said Calaveras Sheriff's Sgt. Chris Hewitt. He said few details have been released so as not to taint the case.

Sheriff Gary Kuntz, at a press briefing Friday, said the suspect is "probably not in the community" based on what officers conducting increased patrols of the area have seen. Nonetheless, he recommended county residents continue to lock their doors as a theft deterrent if nothing else.

"I think they're fairly safe out there at this point in time," he said, adding a suspect is probably hiding from police as opposed to walking about freely if still in the area.

Kuntz said he is not discouraged by the length of time that has lapsed without an arrest.

"It's a little frustrating sometimes and then you get a break," he said. "We're looking for that one break."

The victim's brother, 12, reported finding Leila stabbed by an intruder about noon April 27. The children's parents were at a Little League baseball game nearby when the attack occurred.

The boy described the intruder as about 6 feet tall and muscular, with shoulder-length gray hair.

A neighbor early on reported seeing a person roughly matching that description fleeing the neighborhood, but recanted her story late last week.

Hewitt did not say if a tip spurred the search of the ponds Sunday.

"We are looking for any items of evidentiary value that could aid us in our investigation," he said. "We are canvassing and searching the whole area and with those reservoirs being in the area, we are going to search them."

Investigators last week also removed an area of grass behind the Fowler home.

Asked if any of the roughly 150 interviews conducted Saturday yielded new information, Hewitt said, "We have to compile the answers to the questions we asked and they need to be examined by investigators and followed up on."

He confirmed "numerous items" had been taken from the home for DNA testing. He also said the FBI is aiding with the investigation.

The Calaveras County Coroner's Office reported Leila was stabbed multiple times. Hewitt declined to confirm or deny that.

Hewitt also declined to comment on assertions that the wounds were in the girl's front torso, as opposed to the back.

Leila was pronounced dead at a hospital about an hour after her brother reported the crime.

The Sheriffs Department has said several knives were found in the house but has not said if any was the murder weapon.

The county coroner confirmed a rape test was performed at the hospital but did not release the results.

The Union Democrat
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