In the six weeks since a 13-year-old girl was found dead in a Rosemont park, detectives have been methodically working their way through the "usual suspects" in a homicide case.
They questioned and cleared the sex offenders in the neighborhood near the park. They looked at Jessica Funk-Haslam's family.
Now, Sacramento County sheriff's investigators are mired in the work of processing her friends and peer group sifting rumors for leads and eliminating potential suspects as they go.
It is with this goal in mind, detectives say, that they have swabbed a number of area teenagers to gather DNA.
A recent media report raised questions about detectives taking cheek swabs last week from a handful of students at Albert Einstein Middle School without parental consent. Funk-Haslam was an eighth-grader at the school.
On Tuesday, detectives told The Bee that they have taken DNA swabs from students on that campus as well as others on a few occasions since the girl was found beaten, stabbed and asphyxiated in a baseball diamond dugout March 6.
Sheriff's detectives said that in each case, the minor gave consent following a lengthy explanation about the reason for the swab and how it would be used. They said parental permission is not necessary in such cases, and that they believe each student who gave DNA was capable of consenting.
"(Minors) need to be at an age where there is an understanding of what is being asked," said detective Ken Clark. "We take the collection of DNA very seriously."
Asked about the practice, John Myers, a professor at Sacramento's McGeorge School of Law, did some of his own research, including consulting with two other professors. He said he found no evidence that the practice is illegal.
"I can't find anything that says (law enforcement officers) have to get parental consent," Myers said.
"I think the answer is, kids can consent, and if they consented and it was knowing and intelligent, (law enforcement) can do the search," he said, referring to the DNA swab.
Without the juvenile's consent, Myers said, police would need a warrant.
But the question of whether middle-school students are mature enough to make that decision for themselves could prove to be an issue in court, said Laurie Kubicek, a criminal justice professor at California State University, Sacramento.
"When we know it's a search, then the consent of course needs to be valid," she said. "So how do we know a juvenile is consenting in a knowing and intelligent way?"
Officials with the Sacramento City Unified School District, which includes Albert Einstein Middle School, said they feel it is their duty to inform parents when detectives are interviewing, or swabbing, a student. But they do not seek permission.
"Ultimately, it's not our jurisdiction to say who sheriff's (deputies) can or can't talk to," said Gabe Ross, the district spokesman.
Garrett Kirkland, principal at Albert Einstein, said roughly a dozen of his students have consented to DNA swabs. At nearby Rosemont High, he estimated as many as 30 students have been swabbed.
Kirkland said the vast majority of their parents have been understanding and supportive of detectives' efforts once the situation has been explained.
"They want their kids ruled out just as fast as possible so the real person responsible can be found," Kirkland said. "I've never had so much cooperation from school site parents" in a situation like this, he added.
Kirkland said detectives have been professional with his students determined and thorough, but laid back and not accusatory.
"They're being appropriate for a middle school campus where nobody is a suspect, but everybody is," he said.
Clark and fellow detective Tony Turnbull confirmed the collection of DNA has been more about eliminating people than zeroing in on any one suspect.
They said it is a common practice to ask the subject of an interview for his or her DNA and that in this case students have been cooperative. Detectives have given students their business cards in anticipation of questions from parents. They, too, said there has been little backlash.
"I think many of the parents want resolution to this, are certain their children are not involved" and want to cooperate "if it's going to help us in our investigation into the killing of a 13-year-old girl," Turnbull said.
The detectives said they understand that the lack of answers thus far is frustrating to a community disturbed by the violence. But they said they remain "cautiously optimistic" they will find the girl's killer.
"Do we want to solve it today? Yes, we do," Turnbull said. "But we know it's not going to be that easy and we knew that in the beginning. As an investigator, you have to take it slow."
The slain teen's mother, Tara Funk-Haslam, told The Bee Tuesday she is taking "one day at a time." She asked that the public continue providing tips to help solve her daughter's killing.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Sheriff's Department at (916) 874-5115 or Crime Alert at (916) 443-HELP.