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Leila Fowler slaying: 'The story just didn't add up'

Homicide

This post has been corrected. Please see note at bottom for details.

VALLEY SPRINGS, Calif. -- The name Leila is spelled out in pink and purple ribbons tied to a chain-link fence at Jenny Lind Elementary School, surrounded by notes of love from the slain 8-year-old's classmates.

But signs for a spaghetti dinner and bake sale to raise funds for her family are being taken down all over Valley Springs in Northern California's Calaveras County.

On Saturday night police arrested Leila Fowler's 12-year-old brother on suspicion of her stabbing death April 27.

The boy told police that an intruder had entered their home and killed Leila and authorities warned residents in the rural town to keep their children indoors.

Authorities have released little information regarding the arrest.

"This was a ghost town. No one at the pool on the weekend. Helicopters flying around," said resident Kris Becker. "Now, you're hearing a lot of anger and a lot of questions."

For the first few days after the slaying, children in town were terrified, getting most of their information from each other at school, said 11-year-old Faith Armstrong.

"I didn't want to sleep in my bedroom," she said. "I didn't want my little sisters to go outside."

But long before the authorities announced the arrest, the small town -- its center is little more than a strip mall surrounded by hay fields and rolling foothills -- had started doubting the tale of a long-haired stranger with a knife.

The busiest restaurant in the community of 7,500 is Good Friends Chinese Buffet, which serves all-you-can-eat sushi, Chinese food, pastries and ice cream for one price.

Every night waitress Fian Ngo heard people talking about the brother.

"One table had a child who said 'I go to school with him; he's a bully.' At another table a girl said "No, he's nice. He's my friend.'

"But most people were saying the story just didn't add up."

One neighbor had supported the boy's account, saying she saw someone fleeing. She later recanted.

"Funny thing is she's a customer of ours. She's normal. I don't know what she saw," said Ngo.

Two days after the stabbing, Fidel Taylor -- who knows many of the children in town from coaching sports -- sat down his two children who attend Toyon Middle School with the boy.

Taylor, a retired police officer, told his children they were not to repeat it outside their family, but that he suspected the brother.

"I wanted them to know they were safe and to keep away from him."

But as more than a week went by and Taylor watched his friends trying to soothe terrified younger children, he went cryptically public with his suspicions, posting: 'I know you're thinking it too' on his Facebook page.

He received dozens of private messages from parents who wanted to ease their children's fears of a child killer on the loose, but not accuse a 12-year-old.

Taylor said the arrest brought a feeling of sadness as well as relief.

A week before she died, he had seen Leila in line with her mother at a coffee shop.

"She was twirling and twirling the way little girls do," he said. "But now her murder is a tragedy instead of a threat."

[For the Record: May 13, 2:13 P.M.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the 12-year-old brother attended Tejon Middle School. It is Toyon Middle School.

For the Record: May 13, 4:53 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Leila Fowler attended Jenny Lynn Elementary School. It is Jenny Lind Elementary School.]

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