By Andria Borba and Kate Mather
12:39 PM EDT, May 1, 2013
VALLEY SPRINGS, Calif. -- On the driveway to Jenny Lind Elementary in Valley Springs, two pink and purple hearts bookend the name “Leila,” one of many tributes across campus and Calaveras County to 8-year-old Leila Fowler.
While the ribbons and stuffed animals holding flowers are artistic expressions of a community’s grief, inside the school, the verbal expressions of a childhood lost are all around.
“We’re just letting kids talk. Letting kids talk about their fears, letting them talk about their concerns,” Jenny Lind Principal Amy Hasselwander said Tuesday.
Twenty grief counselors are on campus, giving the students an outlet, someone other than Mom and Dad to talk to.
“They haven’t apprehended the guy yet and some of the kids have asked some pretty hard questions,” Calaveras Consolidated Fire Captain Dick Brown said.
Teachers and grief counselors at Jenny Lind were also working to help their students understand what happened to Leila.
“Those are their kids. Somebody hurt one of their kids. So they tend to struggle with it, some of the bus drivers are struggling with it,” Brown said.
“I think we’re kind of all functioning at this point. We’re not really taking the time to think of ourselves right now,” roving teacher Sharon Mejia said.
The community is struggling to put on a brave face. More than 1,000 people gathered at the girl's school Tuesday for a vigil to remember Leila as her mother tearfully thanked the crowd for their support.
"It will never be forgotten," she said.
Calaveras County sheriff’s deputies, meanwhile, are continuing the hunt for the girl's killer. On Monday, authorities interviewed sex offenders who live near the neighborhood where Leila was stabbed to death.
Some offenders are being photographed and some are having their homes searched, Sgt. Chris Hewitt said Monday.
“They have not been ruled out,” he said.
Authorities have scoured the rural Sierra foothill community, combing tall grass and searching attics and outbuildings for any signs the suspect.
Investigators said they have gathered fingerprints and possible DNA from the home.
Multiple agencies have joined the investigation, Capt. Jim Macedo said, and the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Department has been in contact with the FBI. Detectives conducted follow-up interviews with witnesses and the girl’s family and are pursuing tips, including some from outside the county.
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