8-year-old girl killed: ‘Who would do such a horrible thing’?

Students at Jenny Lind Elementary School tie ribbons honoring murder victim Lelia Fowler, in Valley Springs, Calif., Monday April 29, 2013.
(Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

VALLEY SPRINGS -- In this quiet rural Sierra foothill town, locals feel so safe they don’t bother to lock their doors.

But that has changed. Ever since Saturday, when an 8-year-old girl was stabbed to death by an apparent intruder, this town has been on high alert: A reverse 911 call urged residents to lock doors and stay vigilant. Patrol officers have blocked the road. And authorities launched a door-to-door sweep, checking every attic, storage shed and horse stable.

Lauretta Wanhala lives on Rippon Road -- the street where the slaying occurred. She said the neighborhood is 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.

Gail Kienitz is another neighbor. She said the slain girl, Leila Fowler, and her 12-year-old sister would play with her grandkids at her house.
“There are no words to describe how I feel,” Kienitz said. “This neighborhood is generally safe. Everybody knows everybody.”

The seemingly random violence has shaken many in the town.

Delores Holt came forward with what she thought was information on the case. Holt said she and her husband had spotted a man with long gray hair and the clothes of a homeless person walking across the parking lot of a shopping center in town.

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

In the city center, workmen eating lunch at a taco truck were speculating about who might have killed the girl.

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

With the unidentified suspect still on the loose, Ashlock said, “Everybody is looking at everybody else and wondering whether they know something.”

The Calaveras County coroner said the girl died of shock and hemorrhaging as a result of multiple stab wounds.

She was pronounced dead at 1:01 p.m. Saturday after arriving at the hospital, Coroner Kevin Raggio told The Times.

The investigation into Leila’s death continued Monday, as authorities scoured the small town for possible clues. The Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office said in a morning update that it had been contacted by the California attorney general’s office and the California Department of Justice, which have “prioritized the processing of the evidence taken in this case.”

The assailant was described as a white or Latino man, about 6 feet tall with a muscular build, last seen wearing a black long-sleeved shirt and blue pants, authorities said. Anyone with information is asked to call a tip line at (209) 754-6030.


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