With the dead girl's mother so overwhelmed by emotion she was unable to speak on Monday night, Calaveras County sheriff's investigators were questioning sex offenders and parolees anywhere near the area where 8-year-old Leila Fowler was stabbed to death on Saturday.
"They have not been ruled out. They've been spoken to, in some cases photographed, in some cases searched," Capt.Jim Macedo of the Calaveras County Sheriff's Department said of the local sex offenders.
But investigators won't say if Leila was sexually assaulted or not, nor would they talk of the DNA evidence they have submitted to the state department of justice. Her parents were identified on Monday as Barney Fowler and Krystal Walters.
Leila's 12-year-old brother came home on Saturday to find a stranger walking out of the family home on Rippon Road. He then found his sister bleeding from stab wounds, which the corner ruled the official cause of death.
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.
The brutal death has scared neighbors.
"We have shut and locked all of our windows and doors, our entire homes. Bars on the sliding glass doors.We don't go out to walk the dogs at night", Valley Springs resident Francine Kertham said.
And that won't change until the suspect is caught. He was spotted by the girl's brother and one, possibly two others. But the description is vague: white or Hispanic, muscular build, long gray hair, maybe 6 feet. The man has terrified this community.
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.''
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.
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.
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.
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.
Macedo says all possibilities are under investigation.
"We don't know if this is a random act. the Investigation has taken two different avenues and we don't want to give one attention any lighter than the other."
Associated Press writers Tracie Cone and Terry Collins contributed to this reports.