VALLEY SPRINGS, Calif. - For the first time in 15 days, Rippon Road is no longer guarded by sheriff's deputies or California Highway Patrol officers. Instead of law enforcement vehicles, only purple ribbons lined the street to remember the little girl who loved the color.
"Everybody speculates and everybody said this and that, but I just prayed," said Mary Gallagher, a friend of the Fowler grandparents. "I prayed it wasn't him."
Saturday evening, Leila Fowler's 12-year-old brother was arrested on homicide charges in her stabbing death. The boy originally told deputies an intruder broke into the house and killed his sister. After a multi-agency manhunt and 2,000 hours canvassing the neighborhood, the Calaveras County sheriff announced the boy was no longer their only witness, but the person they believe responsible.
"The citizens of Calaveras County can sleep a little better tonight," said Sheriff Gary Kuntz at a Saturday evening press conference.
The next-door neighbors, who soon found themselves a part of the two-week investigation, said they believe law enforcement thoroughly explored all possibilities.
"The FBI came through, said they wanted to look around, so I said 'Go for it,'" said Aaron Plunk, who lives across the street from the Fowlers. "They were asking the right questions it seems like."
"Seems like there were sheriffs from every county around here," said Jeff Barron, who has been staying at his mother's Rippon Road home, awaiting escrow on his new house. "It was pretty heavily investigated."
Neighbors said they were interviewed at least twice by different agency investigators. Barron said the FBI even sought out the advice of his teenage nephews before they searched the pond last week.
"The FBI was asking the 16 year olds if they had to get down to the lake, what would be the fastest route they would take," Barron said.
Neighbors also observed officers removing a lot of things from the Fowler home. They haven't seen the family at all since the day Leila Fowler died. On Sunday, the victim and her brother's paternal grandfather said he didn't know what to think about his grandson's arrest.
"I don't know what to think. They had been trying to make a case for awhile now," said Dennis Fowler. "It's been really hard on the family."
The sheriff's office has not released details on the possible motive for Leila's stabbing death.
Counselors will be on hand at both the elementary and middle schools this coming week.