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Amber Alert suspect James DiMaggio 'planned' crimes, officials say

August 09, 2013|By Kate Mather and Hailey Branson-Potts

As the search for a missing San Diego-area teenager and her alleged kidnapper honed in on a stretch of Idaho wilderness Friday, authorities said there were indications James Lee DiMaggio planned his alleged acts.

"We believe that this was a planned event and that there was preparation involved," San Diego County Sheriff's Capt. Duncan Fraser told reporters Friday. "There was some preparation on his part that went into this."

But, he stressed, "we don't know what the motive is at this point. It's speculation only."

Sheriff's officials said DiMaggio, 40, purchased camping equipment within the last few weeks.

A huge break came Friday morning in the search for 16-year-old Hannah Anderson when DiMaggio's blue Nissan Versa was found in Idaho about 8 a.m., San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said. Federal, state and local authorities were scouring the rugged, rough terrain of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness in Valley County, where the vehicle was found.

The investigation began Sunday after the body of Hannah's mother, Christina Anderson, was found in DiMaggio's burning San Diego County home. The body of a boy -- believed to be Hannah's 8-year-old brother, Ethan -- was also found, although authorities have not confirmed the child's identity.

Anderson died of blunt force trauma and may have been hit with a crowbar, a source close to the investigation told The Times. An arrest warrant has been issued for DiMaggio, San Diego County sheriff's officials said.

DiMaggio has been described as a close friend of the Anderson family -- the children called him "Uncle Jim," authorities said -- but said they were still trying to sort out his relationship with Hannah.

Some of her friends have told the media DiMaggio had a crush on the teen.

It remains unclear whether Hannah was abducted or went with DiMaggio willingly, Gore said.

The investigation shifted to Idaho late Wednesday after a group of horseback riders told local authorities they spoke to two people believed to be DiMaggio and Anderson, Gore said. The riders came across the pair Wednesday morning, but said it wasn't until they returned later that day that they realized girl may have been Hannah Anderson.

The witnesses said the man and girl had a tent and backpacks, but looked out of place in the rugged terrain because they had light camping equipment, Gore said.

The witnesses said the girl "appeared to be in good health," he added.

"I'm very confident and I think we should all be optimistic that she appeared to be in somewhat good health and alive on Wednesday," Gore said.

After receiving the report, authorities began searching the area.

They found the car Friday "just off a road," covered in brush, Gore said. Its license plates had been removed, but it was identified using the vehicle identification number, he said.

Authorities planned to use bomb and arson technicians to search the vehicle to render it safe, he said. Earlier this week, sheriff's officials warned that the vehicle might be rigged with explosives. The vehicle, Gore said, was not destroyed.

The brush "was an attempt to hide it, to keep it out of plain view," he said.

"We've got to assume he is armed, and that is the word we've put out to everybody," Gore said.

The case drew national attention as the search for the pair widened. An Amber Alert, originally issued in California, was later broadened to Oregon, Washington and Nevada. Idaho was included Friday morning.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation was also involved, along with authorities in Mexico, as DiMaggio's home sits just a few miles north of the border.

DiMaggio's neighbors said this week they were stunned by the allegations, describing the suspect as a quiet, friendly man who waved when he picked up his mail and drove down their two-road neighborhood in Boulevard.

Many said they didn't know much about him, but said the Andersons would frequently visit. When they did, the neighbors said, DiMaggio offered his home and yard for the other neighborhood children to play in.

The neighbors said they didn't notice anything usual about DiMaggio's interactions with the children.

Mary Momberg, wiping away tears, said her 10-year-old son and 18-year-old daughter were friends with the Andersons and would visit when the children were at DiMaggio's.

Her son was the first to spot the flames Sunday, she said. "He looked out the window and said, 'Jim's house is on fire.'"

Momberg said her son was shocked by the news. "He said, 'It couldn't be Jim. Jim couldn't do something like that.'"

On Thursday morning, "PRAY 4 HANNAH" was spelled out in pink plastic cups on a chain-link fence surrounding the teenager's school, El Capitan High in Lakeside. Deflating balloons and flowers were woven into the fence, along with signs.

"Pray for the Andersons," one sign read.

On it, someone penned a message: "Hope you come home safe! God is with you Hannah! God will bring you back, I know it!"


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