Calaveras reels after boy's arrest

etracy@modbee.comMay 19, 2013 

— Reaction in Leila Fowler's hometown to her brother's arrest on suspicion of her slaying ranged from disbelief to anger Sunday.

From some people, what started as whispers of conjecture last week turned into proclamations that they knew all along something didn't add up about the story of a muscular, gray-haired, 6-foot-tall assailant.

The description by Leila's 12-year-old brother had put the foothills towns of Rancho Calaveras and Valley Springs on lockdown after her death. He told police he saw the man run from their Rippon Road home April 27 before finding his 8-year-old sister suffering from multiple stab wounds.

A neighbor told police she saw a man running from the area but recanted less than a week later, leaving only the brother's version of events.

"That morning I was out here in my garden; nobody came out that door," said one neighbor, gesturing to the Fowler house.

The brother's name has not been released since the arrest was announced Saturday. Calaveras County Sheriff's Department officials did not respond to multiple inquiries Sunday.

Because the boy is 12, he cannot be prosecuted as an adult on a murder charge.

During the search, the department had warned residents to stay inside and lock their doors as deputies looked for the killer. At least 20 law enforcement and fire agencies provided support.

For nearly two weeks, Rippon Road was closed to everyone but residents, who had to show identification to get past barricades.

After what neighbor Aaron Plunk described as a shocking arrest, he said that for the first time since Leila's death, he felt comfortable opening windows at night.

An outpouring of support for Leila's family came from the community in the wake of her death.

Hundreds if not thousands attended a candlelight vigil in her honor at Jenny Lind School, including her 12-year-old brother.

Some people donated clothes to Leila's family, who couldn't go inside their home once it was deemed a crime scene. Others donated to a memorial fund.

Jim Rebstock was part of a group that had organized a spaghetti dinner to support the family. He canceled it after the announcement of the brother's arrest by Sheriff Gary Kuntz during a press conference Saturday.

"When news hit last night that it was the brother, by the time I left here and got home we already had people calling and wanting their money back," Rebstock said.

He said people were angry on many fronts. Some felt they'd been kept in the dark by police. Others felt Leila's family no longer deserved the money.

Rebstock said the anger and aggression played out mostly on a private Facebook page after Saturday's announcement. He said it got ugly but that it was a select few spewing most of the hatred.

"They want to be judge, jury and executioner," Rebstock said. "They think this poor 12-year-old kid should have the death penalty."

On Saturday, Kuntz said, "Citizens of Calaveras County, you can sleep a little better tonight."

Authorities spent more than 2,000 hours on the investigation "to provide Leila Fowler's family answers to her death," the sheriff said.

Kuntz said the investigation was ongoing and declined to give further details.

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