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Town grows nervous as girl's killer is hunted

California authorities are searching for a man they say killed an 8-year-old girl in her Valley Springs home, as investigators announce they may have DNA evidence from the crime scene. KCRA's Claire Doan reports.

Sheriff’s deputies stood guard at schools and bus stops Monday and officers fanned out across a Northern California town hunting a man suspected of breaking into a home and stabbing an 8-year-old girl to death.

The attack on Leila Fowler, a third-grader who friends said had a heart-melting smile, shattered the relative calm in Valley Springs, a town on the slope of the Sierra Nevada range that neighbors described as safe and trusting.

“This is way too close to home,” Julia Poland told The Associated Press. “This kind of thing does not happen here.”

Sheriff’s deputies said Leila’s 12-year-old brother found an intruder in the house Saturday afternoon, while the parents were away. The boy said the intruder fled and that he found his sister with stab wounds.

On Sunday, officers searched houses, sheds, even crawl spaces in Valley Springs, The Sacramento Bee reported. The Calaveras County sheriff said more than 100 officers were on the hunt.

Sheriff’s deputies were looking for a man described as 6 feet tall, white or Hispanic, with long gray hair and wearing a black shirt and blue jeans. They said he should be considered armed and dangerous.

NBC affiliate KCRA reported that a neighbor told police a man was running from the home after the stabbing.

The guards at bus stops and schools were part of what the sheriff described as an “increased and very visible presence.” Several dozen anxious neighbors showed up Sunday for an official news conference on the stabbing, The Modesto Bee reported.

The sheriff said authorities had collected fingerprints and DNA evidence from the home.

A candlelight vigil for Leila was planned for Tuesday night. People were asked to bring candles and pink or purple ribbons.

Valley Springs mostly consists of large homes built on acre lots populated by retirees and people who commute to jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area and the San Joaquin Valley, The Sacramento Bee reported. It is about 60 miles southeast of Sacramento.

Mike Rourke told the newspaper that people there used to let young children run free in the neighborhood. His son, Michael, 11, said that he did not know the girl but was fearful.

“I’m nervous, especially to be by myself,” he said.

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