VALLEY SPRINGS, Calif. — The father of a 12-year-old boy accused of fatally stabbing his 8-year-old sister said Monday he believes his son is innocent until he is shown evidence that proves otherwise.
Barney Fowler told The Associated Press that the family is standing behind the boy, who was arrested Saturday after a crime that terrified this Central California foothill community.
“Until they have the proper evidence to show it’s my son, we’re standing behind him,” Fowler said. “If they have the evidence, well that’s another story. We’re an honest family.”
The boy told investigators that on April 27, he encountered a random attacker in the family home. He described the man as being tall with long gray hair. The boy said the man fled and he found his sister, Leila Fowler, bleeding.
Residents of this rural community began locking their doors and calling authorities when they thought they saw men who fit the description of the supposed killer.
They also held fundraisers for the Fowler family and turned out by the thousands for a candlelight vigil in Leila’s honor.
“We’re thankful to the community and all they’ve done for my daughter,” Barney Fowler said.
He echoed comments made earlier Monday by his son, Justin Fowler, 19, who told the AP that the family was in shock and extremely sad about the boy’s arrest.
“We’re just in a fog,” Justin Fowler said.
Leila’s death set off an intense manhunt in the rural community where some residents had moved to escape big city crime. The Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office spent more than 2,000 man-hours amassing evidence and searching door-to-door.
Justin Fowler said the family was having a hard time coping with what is now a double tragedy.
“We’re just trying to stay positive, but it’s hard,” he said.
The AP is withholding the name of the boy because he is a juvenile.
Days after his sister’s killing, the boy appeared at a vigil for her. Justin was photographed with the name “Leila” written on his forearm. Barney Fowler attended with his fiance, Krystal Walters.
“We’re a strong family,” Barney Fowler said Monday. “We’re staying strong.”
People across the mountain community were relieved there had been an arrest and that the crime did not appear to be the work of an intruder.
Investigators initially maintained the boy was being questioned only as a witness.
On Monday, counselors were talking to the siblings’ classmates at Toyon Middle School.
“Our kids are experiencing a lot of mixed emotions,” said Superintendent Mark Campbell. “We have a degree of ease that it’s not a random assailant, but it’s a double whammy from our school perspective. We lost a student and we stand to lose another. It’s a lot for our kids to process.”