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Rural Calif community on lockdown as killer sought

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 30, 2013 at 2:22 am •  Published: April 30, 2013

VALLEY SPRINGS, Calif. (AP) — A region of oak-studded hills in California, where big-city dwellers come to get away from crime, was on lockdown Monday, two days after a mysterious intruder stabbed an 8-year-old girl to death at home before being spotted by her 12-year-old brother.

With the suspect still on the loose, some of the kids in this enclave nestled in the Sierra Nevada foothills were hunkering down after school at James Barci's ranch.

"Nobody is staying alone," said Barci, a truck driver and parent volunteer at Jenny Lind Elementary School, where victim Leila Fowler was a popular third-grader. "I told my work I'm not coming in, and I'm just going to have all of my kids' friends at the house until this is over."

The apparently random attack has the tightknit community on edge. Parents such as Barci spontaneously showed up Monday at the school of 500 students to give hugs or tie purple and pink ribbons — Leila's favorite colors — to trees on campus.

Later Monday, authorities identified the girl's parents while also saying a witness saw a person running from the family home that had a similar description of a man who fled from the home when the girl's brother confronted him.

In a hastily called news conference, Calaveras County sheriff's Capt. Jim Macedo identified the father of Leila Fowler as Barney Fowler and the mother as Krystal Walters.

The names of the parents hadn't previously been released.

As Macedo spoke, Fowler and Walters — both solemn and declining to speak, and with Walters near tears at times — stood in the background. Macedo said Leila's parents wanted to convey their requests that their privacy be respected, but also that a memorial fund had been set up for their daughter. A vigil is also planned for Tuesday night.

No suspects have been named, but officials said a second witness saw someone with a description similar to one provided by Leila's brother of a man who ran from the home when the boy confronted him.

Investigators have also checked registered sex offenders in the area and parolees.

In a pastoral place where fat horses swish their tails in knee-high grass and few people had ever bothered to lock their doors, residents now say their guns are loaded.

"My husband wanted me to put one in my car so I'd have it in my hand when I entered the house," Tabatha Camden said as she dropped off a neighbor's children at the school. "I drew the line at that. We've always had one gun loaded in the house at all times, but now we have four."

The sheriff's office has released little information about the killing other than a vague description of a man with long gray hair. Calaveras County Deputy Coroner Steve Moore said the girl died from multiple stab wounds.

The Fowler family's hillside street is blocked off as a crime scene, since nobody knows for sure how the intruder arrived or where he went.

Violent crime is so rare in the community of 7,400 people that even law enforcement officers have to stop and think when asked about the last time there was a stranger killing in the area.

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