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Police search homes of sex offenders in hunt for girl's killer

FBI

Calaveras County sheriff’s deputies are interviewing sex offenders who live near a Valley Springs neighborhood where an 8-year-old girl was brutally killed.

Some offenders are being photographed and some are having their homes searched, Sgt. Chris Hewitt said Monday.

“They have not been ruled out,” he said.

Authorities have scoured the rural Sierra foothill community, combing tall grass and searching attics and outbuildings for any signs of Leila Fowler’s killer. The little girl was stabbed to death by an intruder inside her home Saturday.

Investigators said they have gathered fingerprints and possible DNA from the home.

Multiple agencies have joined the investigation, Capt. Jim Macedo said, and the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Department has been in contact with the FBI. Detectives conducted follow-up interviews with witnesses and the girl’s family and are pursuing tips, including some from outside the county.

As questions remained, the sleepy community of 2,600 southeast of Sacramento stepped up security and left residents searching for answers.

 “We are trying to figure out who would do such a horrible thing,” Keith Ashlock said during his lunch break Monday. “Things like that just don’t happen here.”

With no arrest made, he added, “everybody is looking at everybody else and wondering whether they know something.”

An autopsy Monday showed that Leila died of shock and hemorrhaging as a result of multiple stab wounds, Calaveras County Coroner Kevin Raggio said in an interview.

The girl and her 12-year-old brother were at home Saturday when her brother heard an intruder, the Modesto Bee reported. He told investigators he saw a man, who fled on foot, before discovering his sister with what sheriff’s Macedo described as “severe injuries.”

He called their parents, who Macedo said were at a “public event” nearby, and then called 911, the Bee reported. The parents also called 911.

Leila was rushed to a hospital, where Raggio said she was pronounced dead.

Extra patrols were on hand Monday at Leila’s elementary school and area bus stops. A reverse 911 call warned residents to lock their doors and remain vigilant. One woman called police after she saw a man with long gray hair wearing clothes similar to those of a homeless person at a shopping center in town.

“I told my husband, ‘I hope he is just passing through,’” Dolores Holt said.

Authorities have received three suspect descriptions with some inconsistencies and have no “specific suspect,” Macedo said Sunday.

On Rippon Road, where the Fowler family lives, neighbors were particularly uneasy. Basketball hoops and tree swings dotted frontyards along the cracked street, where residents say children are always walking, biking or skateboarding.

Gail Kienitz said her grandchildren would play basketball with Leila, whom she described as “sweet and quiet.”

“I can’t even let my kids play outside any more,” she said.

“There are no words to describe how I feel,” Kienitz added. “This neighborhood is generally safe. Everybody knows everybody.”

Lauretta Wanhala described the neighborhood as quiet and safe. “Ninety-five percent of the people here don’t lock their doors,” she said.

“It’s sick,” she said of the crime.

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