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.

“It’s just shocking. I don’t know what else to say,” Campbell said.

Police released no information about what led them to arrest the unidentified 12-year-old for the April 27 attack.