VALLEY SPRINGS, Calif. – People in this quiet Northern California community expressed relief that there had been an arrest in the stabbing death of an 8-year-old girl, but they were stunned by the suspect: her 12-year-old brother.
"It's just shocking. I don't know what else to say," Patti Campbell, longtime restaurant owner in the town of Valley Springs, told The Associated Press on Sunday.
Last month's stabbing death of Leila Fowler shook this small community southeast of Sacramento and set off an intense manhunt. Her brother was in the home at the time and told police he saw a man run from the scene.
Days later, the boy appeared with his father and stepmother at a vigil for his sister. On Friday, as speculation in the community built that perhaps the boy was involved, his biological mother told Sacramento television station KOVR her son "could never hurt his sister."
Later that day, police announced that the boy had been arrested and faced homicide charges.
Aaron Plunk, a neighbor of the family, said the arrest was staggering but he could rest easier now. He said he and his family had been extra vigilant about locking windows and doors, even though the street was being closely guarded throughout the manhunt by deputies who demanded IDs of residents to pass.
"I think we were the safest house in the county," Plunk told the Modesto Bee.
His mother, Carla Plunk called it "a relief knowing there is not some crazy person running around, saying she'd been scared enough to arm herself.
"It the first time I ever held a gun," she said.
Calaveras Unified School District Superintendent Mark Campbell said counselors will be available Monday at all schools.
The district "stands ready to provide whatever level of support and assistance is necessary to the Fowler family" and the community at large, he said Sunday.
Police released no information about what led them to arrest the boy. Leila's brother told police he found his sister's body and encountered an intruder in the home while their parents were at a Little League game. He described the man as tall with long gray hair. A neighbor told detectives she saw a man flee the home, but she later recanted the story.
Police said there was no sign of a burglary or robbery. As part of the investigation, authorities seized several knives from the Fowler home, where Leila lived with her father, stepmother and siblings.
A day before the arrest, the boy's biological mother told Sacramento television station KOVR her son "could never hurt his sister."
"I've never seen him be mean to her," Priscilla Rodriquez told the TV station Friday.
Calaveras County Sheriff Gary Kuntz said authorities spent more than 2,000 hours on the investigation before they arrested the boy on Saturday.