Calaveras County girl died from multiple stab wounds; manhunt continues

04/28/2013 12:32 PM

06/26/2013 2:32 PM

The Calaveras County coroner's office has released the cause of death for 8-year-old Leila Fowler. Deputy coroner Steve Moore said she died from shock and hemorrhaging from multiple stab wounds.

Moore said Leila arrived by ambulance at Mark Twain Medical Center in San Andreas at 12:55 p.m. Saturday and was pronounced dead at 1:01 p.m. Moore declined to release more details.

On Monday, the Sheriff's Department scaled back its massive manhunt for the man suspected of fatally stabbing Leila at her Rancho Calaveras home over the weekend.

Leila was a third-grader at Jenny Lind Elementary School in Valley Springs.

Friends described her as a child with a smile that would melt anyone's heart and a winning personality, and as a daddy's girl who loved the color purple.

Sheriff's Capt. Jim Macedo said Leila's family has asked the public to help catch her killer by reporting anything relevant to a tip line at (209) 754-6030.

Leila's slaying has rocked Valley Springs and Rancho Calaveras, two small towns a couple of miles apart along Highways 12 and 26 and by New Hogan Lake. A few dozen anxious and frustrated people turned out Sunday afternoon for a news conference at the sheriff's Valley Springs substation for an update.

"This is way too close to home. This kind of thing does not happen here," said Julia Poland, who brought her 13-year-old daughter, KyLee, to the news conference.

Authorities said a white or Latino man attacked Leila at her Rippon Road home early Saturday afternoon. Leila's 12-year-old brother told investigators he encountered the man, who fled on foot, and then discovered his sister.

Macedo said the boy called his parents, who were nearby, and then called 911. The parents also called 911. Leila was taken to a hospital in Calaveras County, where she was pronounced dead.

Authorities called residents of Rippon Road and other nearby streets and asked them to lock their doors and windows and stay inside as officers launched a search for the child killer. Officers searched houses, attics, crawl spaces, sheds, outbuildings and tall grass Saturday afternoon and through the night.

Authorities closed part of Rippon Road and other nearby streets, although residents were able to come and go.

The search continued through Sunday afternoon. Macedo, the sheriff's captain, said searchers found fingerprints and what they believe to be DNA evidence in the girl's home and hope to have lab results back within a week.

Macedo declined to release many details of the homicide, saying he did not want to jeopardize the investigation. He could not say when the search would end, saying it would depend on the leads officers developed from their interviews and the search. Details on search areas beyond the neighborhood were not available.

Macedo said officers from several nearby sheriff's departments, including Tuolumne and San Joaquin, as well as the California Highway Patrol and the Angels Camp Police Department were helping in the manhunt. Searchers brought in dogs and search and rescue volunteers.

The slaying took place in a hilly, rural neighborhood that residents described as quiet and safe, with large homes typically built on one-acre lots.

They said most of the homeowners are retirees or workers who commute to jobs in the Northern San Joaquin Valley or Bay Area. Rancho Calaveras is about 30 miles east of Stockton.

Residents said they moved to Rancho Calaveras to escape the crime and violence that have become commonplace in their former hometowns.

Leila has a brother who is a sixth-grader at Jenny Lind, another brother who attends Toyon Middle School and a sister who attends Calaveras High School, said Mark Campbell, superintendent of the Calaveras Unified School District.

He said counselors and support staff will be at the three campuses today to help students and staff. There will be more law enforcement officers, especially at Jenny Lind and nearby bus stops.

"Our hearts and thoughts are with the Fowler family, and we are ready to provide whatever support we can to the parents and siblings now and in the future," Campbell said in a news release.

A candlelight vigil for Leila is planned for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Jenny Lind. Organizers asked people to bring a candle and a pink or purple ribbon, and to car-pool because of limited parking.

Twelve-year-old Kennedie Pekarek was among the friends who attended Sunday's news conference.

Kennedie said Leila's 12-year-old brother is her best friend. Kennedie, her mom, Amanda, and several others who knew Leila said she could be quiet and reserved with those she did not know.

But those who knew her were amazed by her bubbly personality and dazzling smile. In a note sent to Jenny Lind staff, the principal described Leila as compassionate, energetic and vibrant.

"She's got this huge smile," said one friend at the news conference. "You'll just melt."

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or (209) 578-2316.

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