VALLEY SPRINGS, Calif. -- A day before a 12-year-old boy was arrested for the stabbing death of his 8-year-old sister, his mother described him as "protective" of his younger sibling.
Leila Fowler's killing last month shook the quiet community of Valley Springs, southeast of Sacramento, and set off an intense manhunt. Her brother was in the home at the time and told police he saw a man run from the scene.
Days later, the boy appeared with his father and stepmother at a vigil for his sister. On Friday, as speculation in the community built that perhaps the boy was involved, his biological mother told Sacramento television station KOVR her son "could never hurt his sister."
"I've never seen him be mean to her," said Priscilla Rodriquez.
Less than a day later, police delivered the stunning news: The 12-year-old boy had been arrested and will be charged with homicide.
For a community still reeling from the killing, the news was another blow.
"It's bad enough to lose a child. I can't imagine losing a child by one of my own children," Patti Campbell, a longtime area resident and owner of Campbell's Country Kitchen, told The Associated Press.
Campbell, a resident of the area for 33 years and the operator of the Valley Springs restaurant for 15 of them, said she had served Leila and her family in her restaurant.
"It's just shocking. I don't know what else to say," Campbell said.
Other residents in the community of about 7,400 people expressed similar feelings of disbelief.
"I did not want to believe it. You kind of thought so, but it's not something you want to believe," resident Tammy Ainsworth told Sacramento's KCRA-TV.
Aaron Plunk, a neighbor of Fowler's, said the arrest was staggering but he could rest easier now. He said he and his family had been extra vigilant about locking windows and doors, even though the street was being closely guarded by deputies.
"I think we were the safest house in the county," Plunk told the Modesto Bee.
Plunk's mother, Carla Plunk, said she had been scared enough to arm herself.
"It the first time I ever held a gun," she said.
Calaveras Unified School District Superintendent Mark Campbell said counselors will be available Monday at all schools.
The district "stands ready to provide whatever level of support and assistance is necessary to the Fowler family" and the community at large, he said Sunday.
Police released no information about what led them to arrest the unidentified 12-year-old for the April 27 attack. Following the crime, investigators did a door-to-door sweep of homes, storage sheds and horse stables scattered across the oak-studded hills foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Divers also searched two nearby reservoirs in search of clues.
Leila's brother told police he found his sister's body and encountered an intruder in the home while their parents were at a Little League game. He described the man as tall with long gray hair. A neighbor told detectives she saw a man flee the home, but she later recanted the story.
Police said there was no sign of a burglary or robbery. As part of the investigation, authorities seized several knives from the Fowler home, where Leila lived with her father, stepmother and siblings.
Calaveras County Sheriff Gary Kuntz said authorities spent more than 2,000 hours on the investigation before they arrested the boy at 5:10 p.m. Saturday.
Related on HuffPost:
Swat team members secure the scene near Sparks Middle School in Sparks, Nev., after a shooting there on Monday, Oct. 21, 2013. Authorities are reporting that two people were killed and two wounded at the Nevada middle school. (AP Photo/Kevin Clifford)
Sandy Hook Elementary
Molly Delaney, left, holds her 11-year-old daughter, Milly Delaney, during a service in honor of the victims who died a day earlier when a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., as people gathered at St. John's Episcopal Church , Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in the Sandy Hook village of Newtown, Conn. The massacre of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary school elicited horror and soul-searching around the world even as it raised more basic questions about why the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, would have been driven to such a crime and how he chose his victims.
Police secure the scene near Sparks Middle School after a shooting in Sparks, Nev., on Monday, Oct. 21, 2013. Authorities are reporting that two people were killed and two wounded at the Nevada middle school. (AP Photo/Kevin Clifford)
Clackamas Town Center
A security guard looks over the food court at the Clackamas Town Center mall as it opens, on Friday, Dec 14, 2012 in Portland, Ore. The mall is reopening, three days after a gunman killed two people and wounded a third amid a holiday shopping crowd estimated at 10,000. The shooter, Jacob Tyler Roberts, killed himself after the attack Tuesday afternoon.
St. Vincent's Hospital Shooting
Birmingham police arrive at the scene of a shooting at St. Vincent's Hospital on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012 in Birmingham, Ala. Authorities in Alabama say a man opened fire the hospital, wounding an officer and two employees before he was fatally shot by police. Birmingham Police Sgt. Johnny Williams says the officer and employees suffered injuries that are not considered life-threatening.
Sikh Temple Shooting
Mourners attend the funeral and memorial service for the six victims of the Sikh temple of Wisconsin mass shooting in Oak Creek, Wis., Friday, Aug 10, 2012. The public service was held in the Oak Creek High School. Three other people were wounded in the shooting last Sunday at the temple. Wade Michael Page, 40, killed five men and one woman, and injured two other men. Authorities say Page then ambushed the first police officer who responded, shooting him nine times and leaving him in critical condition. A second officer then shot Page in the stomach, and Page took his own life with a shot to the head. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
July 2012: Aurora, Colorado
A policeman stands outside a Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colo., where a heavily armed man opened fire, killing at least 12 people and injuring 50 others.
May 2012: Seattle, Wash.
Friends, family and employees react after a shooting at Cafe Racer in Seattle on May 30, 2012. A lone gunman killed four people Wednesday -- three were shot to death at a cafe, and a fourth in a carjacking. The gunman later killed himself.
April 2012: Oakland, California
Alameda County Community Food Bank workers move a memorial from a parking spot next to Oikos University in Oakland, Calif., Monday, April 23, 2012. Some students and staff members have arrived to resume class at Oikus University, the small California Christian college where seven people were shot to death earlier in April.
November 2009: Fort Hood, Texas
Panou Xiong, center, is comforted by family and friends following a Remembrance Ceremony commemorating the one-year anniversary of the worst mass shooting on a U.S. military base, where 13 people were killed and dozens wounded,, Nov. 5, 2010 in Fort Hood, Texas. Xiong's son, Pfc. Kham Xiong, was killed in the shooting. <em><strong>CORRECTION:</strong> This slide originally said that the Fort Hood shooting took place in November 2010. The shooting took place in November 2009.</em>
March 2009: Kinston, Alabama
The charred Kinston, Ala. living room where suspected gunman Michael McLendon allegedly killed his mother Lisa McLendon, is photographed Wednesday, March 11, 2009. Authorities were working Wednesday to learn why a gunman set off on a rampage, killing 10 people across two rural Alabama counties.
August 2007: Blacksburg, Va.
An unidentified family member of slain Virginia Tech student Daniel Alejandro Prez Cueva, pauses at his memorial stone after the dedication of the memorial for the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting in Blacksburg, Va., Sunday, Aug. 19, 2007. More than 10,000 people gathered on the main campus lawn as Virginia Tech dedicated 32 memorial stones for those killed by a student in a mass shooting on campus last April.
April 1999: Littleton, Colo.
This aerial shows the news media compound near Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., April 21, 1999. Media from around the world poured into the area after 15 people were killed during a shooting spree inside the school.