SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Residents of a rural Northern California county were being told Sunday to keep their doors locked and report anyone considered suspicious as authorities continued the search for the killer of an 8-year-old girl.
Calaveras County deputies and law enforcement officials from neighboring counties, as well as California Highway Patrol officers and members of the California Department of Justice, were looking for a suspect after Leila Fowler was found stabbed in her Valley Springs home around noon Saturday.
The girl was found by her brother — reported by local media to be 12-years-old — after he encountered a male intruder in the home. When the intruder ran away, the boy found his sister stabbed. She was pronounced dead at a local hospital, officials said.
Initially Leila was reported as being 9-years-old, but Coroner Kevin Raggio said Sunday that she would have turned 9 in June.
Authorities spent Saturday night and into Sunday conducting a door-to-door sweep of homes scattered across hilly terrain, checking storage sheds and horse stables, and even searching attics.
“It is a difficult area to search, it’s rural, remote,” sheriff’s Capt. Jim Macedo said.
Reverse 911 calls and Nixle mass notifications alerted area residents about the incident and the search for the suspect, officials said.
“I was working on my tractor and a CHP copter kept flying over my house,” area resident Roger Ballew, 35, told The Associated Press on Sunday.
A SWAT team showed up at his house Saturday night and told him to stay inside, Ballew said.
“It was nerve-wracking, I didn’t sleep well,” he said.
Investigators on Sunday were interviewing several people, but no suspects had been named by late afternoon. Investigators were checking out tips that had come in to the sheriff’s office, including leads and tips that came from outside Calaveras County, officials said.
“It’s just terrible,” area resident Paul Gschweng told Sacramento television station KCRA. “What can I say about it, it’s just a tragedy.”
The station reported that a neighbor told police that a man was running from the girl’s home after the incident.
The suspect was seen wearing a black shirt and blue pants. Authorities considered him armed and dangerous.
Investigators were asking area residents to call authorities if they had any information, or knew of anyone who may have unexplained injuries, or may have left the area unexpectedly after the girl was killed.
Valley Springs is a community of about 2,500 people in an unincorporated area of Calaveras County, known as “Gold Country,” in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, about 60 miles southeast of Sacramento.
The county became world-famous in 1865 with Mark Twain’s short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” according to the Calaveras County Chamber of Commerce website.