updated 04/30/2013 AT 6:00 PM ET
•originally published 04/30/2013 AT 7:00 PM ET
The stabbing of an 8-year-old girl in her home in Valley Springs, Calif., has residents of the small town loading their guns and keeping their kids home from school as police – who have few clues – search for the killer in hilly, remote terrain.
Police say Leila Fowler’s 12-year-old brother, who was home with his sister on Saturday, spotted an intruder, who ran out of the house. The boy then discovered his sister severely injured and phoned his parents, who were at a Little League game. The girl was pronounced dead at a local hospital. The county coroner says she died from multiple stab wounds.
Friends say the third-grader had a heart-warming smile, loved the color purple and was a daddy’s girl. Fowler’s slaying has devastated the 10-square mile community of about 3,500 in Calaveras County, where residents typically keep their doors and windows open and the biggest newsmaker most years is the jumping frog contest written about by Mark Twain in 1865.
Now, residents say, their guns are loaded.
“This is way too close to home,” Julia Poland, who has a 13-year-old daughter, told the Modesto Bee. “This kind of thing does not happen here.”
So far, police seem to have few leads.
The brother described a muscular white or Hispanic man in a black shirt and blue pants, about 6 feet tall, with long, gray hair. Another witness who saw a man running from the home offered a similar description.
Police, with help from dogs and volunteers, have searched houses, attics, crawl spaces, sheds, outbuildings and tall grass. Investigators also lifted fingerprints and DNA from the house (lab results should take about a week), and checked with local registered sex offenders and parolees.
A candlelight vigil was planned for Tuesday evening at Leila’s school, Jenny Lind Elementary.
Sheriff’s Capt. Jim Macedo says Leila’s parents, Barney Fowler and Krystal Walters (who stood behind him at a press conference but were too distraught to speak) ask that anyone with a tip call (209) 754-6030.