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Amber Alert suspect James DiMaggio slain; girl rescued

James Lee DiMaggio was killed after being found by an FBI search team in a remote area of Idaho. Hannah Anderson, 16, appeared to be in "pretty good shape."

August 10, 2013|By Kate Mather, Andrew Blankstein and Kurt Streeter
  • Law enforcement personnel disembark from a Blackhawk helicopter at the Cascade Airport during Saturday's search for James DiMaggio and Hannah Anderson. Hundreds from various branches of law enforcement converged on the area to join the search.
Law enforcement personnel disembark from a Blackhawk helicopter at the… (Joe Jaszewski, Associated…)

CASCADE, IDAHO — The man suspected of kidnapping 16-year-old Hannah Anderson was shot and killed by an FBI agent at a remote central Idaho campsite Saturday in a dramatic rescue that left the girl unharmed.

James Lee DiMaggio, 40, was killed after he was found by an FBI search team near Morehead Lake, about 75 miles north of Boise and just a few miles from where the two were spotted by a horseback rider Wednesday, officials said. The agent had been alerted to DiMaggio and the teen by searchers scouring the area in a plane.

Law enforcement officials offered few other details on the shooting, and would not divulge whether there was a firefight or even if DiMaggio was armed.

The killing ended a tense, multi-state manhunt that began Aug. 4, when firefighters found the bodies of Hannah's mother and younger brother at DiMaggio's burning home, east of San Diego. Ever since, police have been focused on Hannah, who authorities believed was abducted.

The case prompted officials in several Western states to send missing-children Amber Alert text messages to the public, which became transfixed by the massive manhunt.

"Hannah's safe, and that's the best outcome we were hoping for," Andrea Dearden, a spokeswoman for the Ada County Sheriff's Department, said during a Saturday news briefing.

"I am nervous, excited and saddened for my wife and son and worried what my daughter has been through," said Brett Anderson, Hannah's father, in a text sent to CNN. "It's now healing time. Keep us in your prayers."

After the shooting, Hannah was helicoptered to a hospital for evaluation. San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said at a news conference that she appeared to be in "pretty good shape" but gave no further details.

"Obviously, we would have liked Mr. DiMaggio to surrender and face justice in a court of law, but that's not going to be the case," Gore said.

Search crews poured into this mountainous wilderness region late in the week, following two major breaks in the case. First, a man riding horseback on Wednesday spotted hikers believed to be the missing pair.

The witness said the man and teenage girl had a tent and backpacks but looked out of place in the rugged terrain. The rider said nothing else seemed particularly unusual, so he continued on. "They exchanged pleasantries, and he left the area thinking they were hiking and camping," Dearden said.

Once the rider got home, he found out about the Amber Alert, prompting him to contact the Idaho State Police, she said.

Then, on Friday morning, DiMaggio's blue Nissan Versa, featured prominently in the alerts, was found at the edge of a remote trail head. It was "the last place you can go before you hit the wilderness and stop driving," Dearden said. The car's license plates had been removed, but authorities confirmed it was DiMaggio's car by a check of its vehicle identification number. For a time, authorities worried that DiMaggio might have planted explosives in the car, but none were found.

The hunt focused on a roughly 300-square-mile swath of rugged terrain. A haven for wolves, bears and mountain lions, the area is so remote that some searchers had to be flown in, while others engaged in the hunt on horseback. By Saturday afternoon, roughly 200 local and federal law enforcement officers were combing the federally protected hillsides. Eventually, with air crews circling the skies, a pair of U.S. marshals in a surveillance plane spotted DiMaggio and the teen at a campsite.

DiMaggio was said to be an experienced outdoorsman who had joined the family on camping trips. Authorities say he had recently purchased backpacking equipment — a sign, they said, that the abduction may have been planned.

"We believe ... that there was preparation involved," said San Diego County Sheriff's Capt. Duncan Fraser.

The broader search began last Sunday, when firefighters battled a fire at DiMaggio's home and eventually found the bodies of Hannah's mother, Christina, 44, and brother, Ethan, 8. Christina Anderson died of blunt force trauma and may have been hit with a crowbar, a source close to the investigation told The Times.

Once the bodies were found and officials realized that Hannah was missing, state officials began seeking the public's help — using for the first time in California an Amber Alert system sent through cellphones. The search quickly broadened beyond U.S. borders to Mexico and Canada, as well as to Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Idaho.

Meanwhile, Hannah's father, Brett Anderson, had pleaded with DiMaggio in a televised message this week to let his daughter go. He also advised Hannah to run from DiMaggio if she had the chance. Anderson and his wife had separated, and he has been living in Tennessee.

A telecommunications technician at the Scripps Research Institute, DiMaggio has been described as a close friend of the Anderson family — so close that the children called him "Uncle Jim." DiMaggio and Brett Anderson knew each other from their work, according to press reports.

The nature of DiMaggio's relationship with Hannah remains unclear, authorities say. It was not known whether Hannah was abducted or went with DiMaggio willingly.

At least one of Hannah's friends has said that DiMaggio had told the teen he had a crush on her. The friend said Hannah was disturbed by the revelation and did not want to be alone with him.

kate.mather@latimes.com

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

kurt.streeter@latimes.com

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