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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

"Probably five years ago was the last one I can remember," said Officer Rebecca Myers of the California Highway Patrol, who was assigned to block access to the neighborhood of one-acre ranchettes.

The killing of the little girl known for her sweet smile, generous hugs and friendly demeanor has hit the community hard. It's a place where parents read about tragedies in other places and give thanks that they live in Calaveras County, which makes the news only when the jumping frog contest celebrated by Mark Twain is taking place at the county fair.

"I don't know how our children are going to adjust to this," said Kathryn Danielli, who moved here from Stockton with her sixth-grade daughter to escape crime.

Danielli was among about 20 parents who drove their children to school then stayed to lend support. Sheriff's deputies patrolled the area and sheriff's volunteers stood guard at the entrance.

"Everybody up here who has kids moved up here because your kids can go outside and play," said Kim Hoeke, who moved from Antioch in the San Francisco Bay area seven years ago.

Calaveras Unified School District Superintendent Mark Campbell said at least two therapy dogs and 10 counselors were on hand for students, teachers and staff to guide them through the grieving process.

Campbell said he met with Leila's parents Monday when they came to the school to thank teachers and staff for the support they had offered.

The parents were at a Little League game at the time their daughter was attacked, Campbell said. Leila's brother found her and notified the father, who called 911 and went home, he said.

Part of the school-guided grieving process included classrooms taking turns writing notes to Leila and hanging them on the fence at the entrance to the school. They came in somber groups and attached their notes one by one.

"Dear Leila: You were a fun person and very smart. I enjoyed being around you every minute," one girl wrote.

"I know you are in heaven looking down at us but you will always be in my heart," wrote another.

Campbell said officers will have a presence at the school at until the case is resolved.

The suspect is the subject of a broad manhunt by the sheriff's departments of Calaveras and surrounding counties, the California Highway Patrol and the state Department of Justice. Sheriff's officials say investigators collected fingerprints and what they believe is DNA from the home on Sunday.

"Our normal has changed and we will move forth and heal by coming together, as we all are here today," said Linda Stoes, whose daughter dressed in purple Monday to honor her friend. "Our perspectives have changed forever."


AP writer Terry Collins contributed to this story from San Francisco.