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  • Elias Funez / Modesto Bee

    Stacey Sims, right, consoles Amanda Pekarek in Valley Springs on Sunday. Their children were friends of slaying victim Leila Fowler.

  • Leila Fowler

  • Third-grader Leila Fowler was stabbed to death in her home Saturday. Above, a Calaveras County sheriff's deputy stops a car as part of the investigation.

Calaveras sheriff vows to find girl's killer

Published: Tuesday, Apr. 30, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 4B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Apr. 30, 2013 - 7:50 am

VALLEY SPRINGS – Calaveras County Sheriff Gary Kuntz vowed Monday evening that he and his officers will hunt down and capture the man suspected of killing 8-year-old Leila Fowler in her home over the weekend.

"This is a sad time in Calaveras County," the sheriff said at a news conference outside the Valley Springs sheriff's substation before a battery of TV cameras, microphones and reporters. "We are doing everything possible to apprehend the person responsible for the murder of this 8-year-old girl.

"We will not rest until we capture the responsible person."

Dozens of residents packed the news conference to learn more about the slaying that has ripped the fabric of Valley Springs and Rancho Calaveras, two small, close-knit rural towns a couple of miles apart along Highways 12 and 26 and about 60 miles southeast of Sacramento.

Leila's parents, Barney Fowler and Crystal Walters, stood behind the sheriff and other Sheriff's Office officials during the news conference. The couple were too distraught to speak, but officials relayed the parents' concern that the public respect the family's privacy.

Authorities say an intruder fatally attacked Leila on Saturday in her Rancho Calaveras home. Her 12-year-old brother encountered the intruder, who fled on foot.

Authorities have said the killer is a white man or Latino, 6 feet tall and muscular. He was last seen wearing a black, long-sleeved shirt and blue pants. He is considered armed and dangerous.

The Calaveras County Coroner's Office reported Monday that Leila died from shock and hemorrhaging from stab wounds.

Deputy Coroner Steve Moore said Leila arrived by ambulance at Mark Twain Medical Center in San Andreas at 12:55 p.m. Saturday and was pronounced dead at 1:01 p.m. At the request of investigators, Moore declined to release other details.

Kuntz said it appears that the intruder intended to attack the girl, and that the incident was not a botched robbery or other crime gone wrong.

Sheriff's officials said they have checked on registered sex offenders and people on parole and probation for sex crimes as part of their investigation. But they stressed they were doing so as a matter of good investigative procedure and not because the slaying is a sex crime.

Authorities declined to release other details of their investigation, but they appear to have ended their intensive weekend search of Leila's neighborhood for her killer. As many as 100 officers and other personnel searched homes, crawl spaces, attics, outbuildings and the tall grass in the hilly, rural neighborhood where the girl was slain.

Leila was a third-grader at Jenny Lind Elementary School in Rancho Calaveras. Friends described her as a compassionate, vibrant, energetic child with a smile that would melt anyone's heart.

Jenny Lind Elementary School students attended class Monday with a heavy police presence as sheriff's deputies walked the campus, drove by in their patrol cars and parked near the school grounds.

About 20 counselors and others were on campus to help students and staff deal with the emotional fallout of the slaying.

Tributes set up at the elementary school for Leila, including purple ribbons – her favorite color. Ribbons also flew from street sign poles in Leila's neighborhood, at Valley Springs' only shopping center and in front of businesses.

Ninety-two of Jenny Lind's 600 students did not attend school Monday, more than three times the typical number of absences for a Monday, said Mark Campbell, superintendent of the Calaveras Unified School District.

Campbell said many parents who kept their children out of school did so because of their concerns that Leila's killer is still on the loose. Campbell said counselors and sheriff's deputies will remain at Jenny Lind for as long as they are needed.

Amanda Leonard was among the scores of parents waiting to pick up their children from the elementary school Monday afternoon.

Leonard echoed what many parents have said since the slaying – that such a horrific, senseless crime is not supposed to happen in their quiet, rural and safe community, where residents routinely keep their windows open and doors unlocked.

The slaying of the bright 8-year-old also brought heightened attention from news media outlets. More than a half-dozen TV stations from Sacramento and San Francisco had crews in Valley Springs and Rancho Calaveras. CNN had an outsized news van – about three times the size of a typical TV news van – parked near the Valley Springs sheriff's substation.

Calaveras County sheriff's officials urge anyone with information about the case to call the tip line at (209) 754-6030.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Kevin Valine

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