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Amber Alert suspect's death: Few details known on tactical shooting

August 11, 2013|By Kate Mather and Andrew Blankstein

CASCADE, Idaho -- As the investigation continues, federal authorities have offered few details on how the man suspected of kidnapping 16-year-old Hannah Anderson was shot and killed Saturday by a member of an FBI search team at a remote central Idaho campsite.

Authorities refused to discuss at a news conference whether James Lee DiMaggio, 40, was armed or whether he even had access to weapons when he was killed near Morehead Lake, about 75 miles north of Boise. The location was just a few miles from where DiMaggio and Hannah were spotted by a horseback rider on Wednesday.

The agent and the search team were alerted to DiMaggio and the teen by searchers scouring the area in a plane. Because of the ongoing investigation, authorities said they could not divulge any specific details about the tactical operation.     

But a source familiar with the investigation said that DiMaggio appeared to be trying to build a makeshift bunker at the time he was killed.

An FBI review team was dispatched from Washington, D.C., to Idaho to conduct its own probe of the shooting and determine exactly what happened. This is standard procedure any time an FBI agent discharges a firearm in the line of duty, officials said.
“When kidnappings like this occur, no one ever really knows where the investigation will lead,” said Mary Rook, special agent in charge. “In this case, our team faced a very challenging situation.”

PHOTOS: Search for San Diego teen

The rescue effort began Saturday afternoon when two U.S. Marshalls in a surveillance plane spotted two people who matched the descriptions of Hannah and DiMaggio near Morehead Lake, authorities said.

Smoke from nearby wildfires was making it difficult to see and fly, so the law enforcement commanders decided to send the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team in to get Hannah while they still could, authorities said.

The topography was so steep, helicopters had to drop off two separate teams far from the lake, officials said. It took both teams more than two hours to hike through the steep topography to get to the lake and surround the camp.

They also didn’t want to alert DiMaggio they were coming, authorities said. Once the teams set up, they waited until DiMaggio and Hannah separated, and moved in.

The killing ended a tense, multi-state manhunt that began Aug. 4, when firefighters found the bodies of Hannah's mother and younger brother on DiMaggio's property east of San Diego, where his home was on fire. 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.

After the shooting, Hannah was taken by helicopter 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.

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.

MAP: Key locations in rescue effort

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 was 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.

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