Tense Calif. town hunts for killer of 8-year-old

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Valley Springs, California (Photo: Google Earth)

Valley Springs, California (Photo: Google Earth)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Law enforcement patrols have been increased outside a school in a small Northern California town where a search is continuing for a man suspected of stabbing an 8-year-old girl to death.

Deputies from the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office on Monday were deployed outside Jenny Lind Elementary School in Valley Springs, as classmates of the victim, Leila Fowler, returned to school.

Grief counselors were also expected to be available at the school. A class of sixth-graders placed ribbons outside to remember Fowler, a third-grader.

Authorities say Leila was fatally stabbed at her home in Valley Springs on Saturday during an apparent break-in. The girl was found by her older brother who told deputies that he had encountered a male intruder in the home.

Authorities have issued a vague description of a suspect but have not been able to identify the man.

After door-to-door sweeps proved fruitless, law officers urged residents of a small town in Northern California to lock their doors and keep a close eye on streets and yards for a man who stabbed an 8-year-old girl to death in her house.

The attacker, only described as wearing a black shirt and blue pants, was the subject of a broad search Sunday by the sheriff’s departments of Calaveras and surrounding counties, the California Highway Patrol and the state Department of Justice.

Leila Fowler was stabbed to death on Saturday at the home in Valley Springs, Coroner Kevin Raggio said. Sheriff’s officials say investigators have collected fingerprints and what they believe is DNA from the home. Calaveras County Sheriff’s Capt. Jim Macedo told the Modesto Bee authorities hope to have lab results on the evidence in a week.

“This is way too close to home,” Julia Poland, who took her 13-year-old daughter to an afternoon news conference on the search, told the Bee. “This kind of thing does not happen here.”

Leila was found by her brother — reported by local media to be 12 years old — after he encountered a male intruder in the home. When the intruder ran away, the boy found his sister stabbed. She was pronounced dead at a local hospital, officials said.

Authorities spent Saturday night and into Sunday conducting a door-to-door sweep of homes scattered across hilly terrain, checking storage sheds and horse stables, and even searching attics.

“It is a difficult area to search, it’s rural, remote,” sheriff’s Capt. Jim Macedo said.

Mass notifications alerted residents about the attack and the search for the suspect, officials said.

“I was working on my tractor and a CHP copter kept flying over my house,” Roger Ballew, 35, told The Associated Press on Sunday.

A SWAT team showed up at his house Saturday night and told him to stay inside.

“It was nerve-racking, I didn’t sleep well,” Ballew said.

Investigators on Sunday were interviewing several people, but no suspects had been named by late afternoon. Detectives were checking out tips that had come in to the sheriff’s office, including possible leads from outside the county, officials said.

“It’s just terrible,” resident Paul Gschweng told Sacramento television station KCRA. “What can I say about it, it’s just a tragedy.”

The station reported that a neighbor told police that a man was running from the girl’s home after the attack.

Investigators were asking area residents to call authorities if they had any information, knew of anyone who had unexplained injuries or may have left the area unexpectedly after the girl was killed.

Valley Springs is a community of about 2,500 people in an unincorporated area of Calaveras County, known as “Gold Country,” in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, about 60 miles southeast of Sacramento.

The county became world-famous in 1865 with Mark Twain’s short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” according to the Calaveras County Chamber of Commerce website.

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