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Tight-knit California community on edge as police hunt killer of 8-year-old girl

 

A tight-knit Northern California community is on virtual lockdown as police search for a man who stabbed an 8-year-old girl to death in an apparent random killing in her home.

Sheriff's officials said Monday that investigators have collected fingerprints and what they believe is DNA from the home where Leila Fowler was stabbed to death, but haven't identified any suspects yet.

The apparently random attack has the tight-knit community of Valley Springs on edge. Parents spontaneously showed up Monday at the school the girl attended to give hugs or tie purple and pink ribbons -- Leila's favorite colors -- to trees on campus.

"Nobody is staying alone," said Barci, a truck driver and parent volunteer at Jenny Lind School, where Leila was a popular third-grader. "I told my work I'm not coming in, and I'm just going to have all of my kids' friends at the house until this is over."

Leila was attacked at her home Saturday in the small town about 60 miles southeast of Sacramento. Police say Leila was found by her 12-year-old brother after he encountered a male intruder at the home. 

No suspects have been named, but officials said a second witness saw someone with a description similar to one provided by Leila's brother of a man who ran from the home when the boy confronted him.

Investigators have also checked registered sex offenders in the area and parolees.

In a hastily called news conference Monday night, Calaveras County sheriff's Capt. Jim Macedo identified the father of Leila Fowler as Barney Fowler and the mother as Krystal Walters.

The names of the parents had not been previously released. Macedo did not provide any other details about the parents, including their ages.

As Macedo spoke, Fowler and Walters stood in the background and declined to speak.  Macedo said Leila's parents wanted to convey their requests that their privacy be respected, but also that a memorial fund had been set up for their daughter. 

A vigil is also planned for Tuesday night at the elementary school. 

"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, and to stand unified and strong as we provide whatever level of support and assistance that is necessary to help the family, our students, our parents and our staff process the unthinkable,” the superintendent of the Calaveras Unified School District Mark Campbell said in a statement, according to Fox 40.

Authorities say they are looking for a possible suspect: a white or Hispanic man around 6-feet tall, with a muscular build and last seen wearing a black, long-sleeved shirt and blue pants. He is considered armed and dangerous.

Leila's killing sparked a massive weekend manhunt, with authorities conducting a door-to-door search for the man, checking storage sheds and horse stables, and even searching attics.

Investigators were also looking into tips that had come in to the sheriff's office, including leads and tips that came from outside Calaveras County, officials said.

Authorities are asking area residents to call them if they had any information, or know of anyone who may have unexplained injuries, or may have left the area unexpectedly after the girl was killed.

Click for more from Fox 40.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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