Authorities are looking into whether the attempted kidnapping of a Placerville toddler is connected to the fatal stabbing of an 8-year-old girl in a small town 45 miles away.
Placerville police Capt. Mike Scott said there were "some similarities" between the suspect arrested Tuesday and the man described in the slaying of Leila Fowler in Valley Springs but said there was "no confirmed nexus" between the cases.
"At this point, it's a shot in the dark," he told The Times.
Placerville police arrested Jason Wayrynen, 42, Tuesday after he allegedly followed a woman into an apartment uninvited and "immediately went" for a 15-month-old girl inside, Scott said.
The woman called 911 as the girl's mother wrestled with the suspect, police said.
A police statement alleged Wayrynen grabbed the girl from her mother and held the toddler to the ground. The girl's mother was able to free her daughter and put her in a bedroom, where other children were hiding, police said.
She then closed the door and "fought with the suspect," keeping him out of the bedroom until officers arrived.
Wayrynen was booked on suspicion of kidnapping and burglary, police said.
"This is a very bizarre episode or incident that took place here in Placerville, and obviously it's a very sad and bizarre case that took place in Calaveras County," Scott said. "If there is a match, that would be outstanding, but it's truly a shot in the dark."
Placerville police notified Calaveras County authorities after the arrest, Calaveras County sheriff's Sgt. Chris Hewitt said. Hewitt said sheriff's detectives were heading to Placerville on Wednesday to collect DNA taken from Wayrynen in order to compare it with DNA gathered at the murdered girl's home.
Leila Fowler and her 12-year-old brother were at their Valley Springs home when her brother heard an intruder, according to Calaveras County Sheriff's Capt. Jim Macedo. The boy told investigators he saw a man, who fled on foot, before discovering his sister with what Macedo described as "severe injuries."
The brother called their parents, who Macedo said were at a "public event" nearby, and then called 911. The parents also called 911.
Leila was rushed to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead, Calaveras County Coroner Kevin Raggio said. An autopsy showed the girl died of shock and hemorrhaging as a result of multiple stab wounds, Raggio said.
Authorities have scoured the rural community, interviewed sex offenders and parolees, and fast-tracked evidence, hoping to track down the girl's killer. Hewitt told The Times on Wednesday that investigators are continuing to conduct interviews and are following up on more than 215 tips from across the country.
Investigators also planned to meet Wednesday with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which offered its assistance with the case, Hewitt said.
Despite some reports, Hewitt said investigators don't believe Leila's slaying was a targeted killing. There were also no signs indicating it was an attempted burglary or robbery gone wrong, he said.
"We're not sure what the motive is," he said. "We don't know if it was an intentional act or random."
Macedo said earlier this week that fingerprints were recovered from Leila's home, and the California attorney general's office and state Department of Justice pledged they would "not only expedite this case, but this case would be the priority case that they were working on in the state of California."
Hewitt said the DNA and other evidence could be processed as early as Wednesday, but could take up to two weeks.
Leila's brother was able to provide a description of the suspect that was similar to what a neighbor saw, Macedo said. A third description came from a resident who "had seen someone in the area a few days prior," Macedo said.
But Macedo said there were "some inconsistencies" among the three descriptions, which is why investigators are sticking to few details. The man is described as muscular, about 6 feet tall, wearing a black, long-sleeved shirt and blue pants.
Residents of the rural community remained on edge as the hunt for Leila's killer continues. More than 1,000 people gathered for a candlelight vigil at her elementary school Tuesday, where Leila's mother addressed the crowd.
“I just want to thank the entire community and all of our family and friends for all the overwhelming amount of support you've given our family,” Crystal Walters said. “It will never be forgotten. Thank you.”