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Amber Alert heads west and works

August 09, 2013|By Carla Hall
  • This flier from the San Diego County Sheriff's Department shows James Lee DiMaggio, suspected of killing Christina Anderson, 44, and kidnapping her daughter, Hannah Anderson, 16. Christina Anderson's son, Ethan, may have been killed with her.
This flier from the San Diego County Sheriff's Department shows James… (Sand Diego County Sheriff's…)

Californians weren’t the only ones this week who were startled by their cellphones jangling with the Amber Alert text message about the missing San Diego County teen and the man suspected of kidnapping her.   Over the past few days, authorities widened the area of the Amber Alert to Oregon, Washington, Nevada  and part of Idaho. That means the cellphones of nearly the entire western United States got buzzed. 

And guess what? It seems to be working.

Friday morning, San Diego County law enforcement officials announced that they found the now infamous blue Nissan stripped of its license plate (most of us had practically memorized the number from seeing it on freeway signs so often) and had a very likely sighting of the teenage girl, Hannah Anderson, and James Lee DiMaggio, the man suspected of kidnapping her and murdering her mother and possibly her younger brother.

 The car was found Friday morning hidden under brush in a vast rugged preserve about 70 miles northeast of Boise, Idaho, that is hauntingly named the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. (Well, the "river of no return" part is haunting.)

 Here’s how things transpired: Horseback riders on Wednesday came across and chatted briefly with a man and a girl, light on camping equipment (although DiMaggio is an experienced outdoorsman) but otherwise seemingly fine. The girl did not appear to be in any distress. The riders didn’t think too much of it, possibly because Idaho cellphones hadn’t been alerted at that point. But when they returned home, they saw the news, connected the reports to their encounter and called authorities. The car was found six miles from where the campers believed to be Anderson and DiMaggio were spotted.

The two are still missing, but the sighting is a big help for authorities who thought the two could be anywhere from Canada to Mexico.

Even if the horseback riders didn’t get the Amber Alert from their cellphones, “It created a lot of attention, so whether people saw it from the cellphones or the news” about the cellphones, it put more eyes on the lookout, said Brian Josef, assistant vice president of regulatory affairs for the wireless association CTIA.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Amber Alert cellphone buzz travels into more states. Wyoming next? This is beginning to play out like a ballad about traveling cellphone alerts making their way northward and eastward across the country. The backstory is tragic, the alerts sound annoying, but it’s all made for this kind of cross-country grass-roots search that is showing results.

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