Leila Fowler

Calaveras town's trust shattered as deputies hunt girl's killer

Published: Monday, Apr. 29, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Monday, Apr. 29, 2013 - 11:25 am

VALLEY SPRINGS, Calaveras County – As authorities hunted for a child killer all day Sunday, Mike Rourke said life in Valley Springs will never be the same.

The carefree trust of the foothills town was shattered by Saturday's fatal stabbing of 8-year-old Leila Fowler by an alleged intruder in her home, sparking the manhunt.

Leila's 12-year-old brother reportedly came upon an intruder in the house about noon while the parents were away, deputies said. The intruder fled, and the brother found his sister with stab wounds, deputies said.

He called his parents, and they immediately phoned 911, Sheriff's Capt. Jim Macedo said. A sheriff's dispatcher called the home and talked to the boy until deputies arrived.

Macedo said there was no physical contact between the brother, whose name is not being released, and the intruder.

Officials aren't saying whether the intruder was known to the family, nor if there was forced entry into the home.

The incident took place in the Rancho Calaveras neighborhood of Valley Springs, a town of about 7,500 people on the western climb into the mountains, about 60 miles southeast of Sacramento.

Calaveras County sheriff's deputies and officers from throughout the foothills set up roadblocks and went door to door to search for the mysterious intruder. He was described as a muscular white or Latino man, about 6 feet tall, wearing a black long-sleeve shirt and blue pants.

Officers searched houses, attics, crawl spaces, sheds and outbuildings. They asked residents to stay inside behind locked doors.

Friends said Leila, a third-grader at Jenny Lind Elementary School, had a smile that would melt anyone's heart and a winning personality.

The slaying occurred in a hilly, rural neighborhood that residents called quiet and safe, with large homes built on large, typically 1-acre lots.

They said most of the homeowners are retirees or commuters to jobs in the northern San Joaquin Valley or Bay Area.

The Rourke family, like many in the town, used to let their young children run free in the neighborhood, and they rarely locked their homes or vehicles. "This changes our outlook on everything," Rourke said.

Rourke's son Michael, 11, said he didn't know Leila, but the tragedy makes him fearful in his own home. "I'm nervous, especially to be by myself," he said.

Macedo said the Sheriff's Office was following up on 90 tips from residents. He said the public is asked to report anything they know to a tip line at (209) 754-6030.

A candlelight vigil is planned for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Jenny Lind school. People are asked to bring a candle, a pink or purple ribbon and to car pool due to limited parking.

Call The Bee's Anne Gonzales, (916) 321-1049. Follow her in Twitter @AnneGonzo.

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