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Search for Hannah Anderson jolts sleepy Idaho town awake

Hundreds of law enforcement officers and dozens of reporters descend on Cascade after reports placed James DiMaggio and Hannah Anderson nearby.

August 13, 2013|By Kate Mather

CASCADE, Idaho — It was already shaping up to be a busy weekend in this otherwise sleepy town, with the usual tourists, the area wildfires and the final days of the Valley County Fair.

But nobody expected the manhunt.

After the search for San Diego County teenager Hannah Anderson suddenly shifted Friday to a stretch of Idaho backcountry 50 miles from here, hundreds of law enforcement officers and dozens of reporters descended upon quiet Cascade.

Satellite trucks took over the fire station's parking lot. Gun-toting officers walked through the lobby of the biggest hotel. One diner stayed open an hour past closing time Saturday, serving up whatever food it had left to tables full of reporters.

"It was nuts," one man said Monday.

Weekends are usually big for Cascade, population 997 (or, according to the sign on the other side of town, 1,001). The old mill town is now a tourist spot, with nearby pine-covered mountains, a river and a lake offering a reprieve from the bustle of Boise, 70 miles south on Highway 55.

"We get a big influx of people that get here Friday and leave Sunday. Every fire season, we have helicopters at the airport that come in and take over," Mayor Rob Terry said. "This isn't a major Type-A personality town."

The road leading to where Hannah and her alleged kidnapper, James DiMaggio, were spotted in the rugged Idaho wilderness begins just inside Cascade's northern limit, making the town the gathering point for authorities and national media.

Debbie Gunderson, manager of the Ashley Inn, said she hadn't heard much about the search until the Amber Alert was broadcast in Idaho on Friday morning. All of a sudden, she said, pointing to a receiver at the front desk, "that phone started ringing."

The San Diego County Sheriff's Office called first, she said, looking for a place to stay. The 67-room hotel was already booked through Saturday, she said, but they were able to find space for some officials and reporters after cancellations.

"It was crazy," she said. "The firearms, the dogs."

The hotel has a no-pet policy. But when U.S. Border Patrol agents showed up with a canine unit, she said, they made an exception "for someone like that."

Bill Totten, proprietor of Dollar Bill's Casual Fine Red Neck Dining, said some FBI agents stopped by for his barbecue, parking their vehicles in the gravel lot next to the restaurant.

"It looked like we'd been raided," he said.

Many residents said they weren't concerned that DiMaggio would show up in town, given that the search was centered 50 miles away. Others said he would have found trouble if he'd come into town.

"I don't think he'd want to do that in Cascade," said Ben Wellington, a real estate broker.

Totten was more blunt.

"He'd-a been shot if he came in here," Totten said, noting that he keeps a .38 at the ready and a 12-gauge shotgun in his kitchen. "I'd have no problem with it."

But it was the FBI who killed DiMaggio, during a Saturday raid on the campsite near Morehead Lake. Hannah was safely rescued, much to the relief of the community. As reporters waited for a Saturday evening news conference, dozens of residents came to the fire station to watch.

Patty Winder, who vacations in Cascade, rode up on her golf cart, her dog in her arms.

"Did I think he'd end up here? No. From California all the way to here? Never," she said. "I'm glad the girl is alive. It's amazing."

When the news conference ended, the crowd cheered as officials walked away. "Thank you!" a few people yelled.

By Monday, most of the authorities had gone for good; the reporters too.

Terry, the mayor, laughed when he said he was glad the commotion had died down, though he acknowledged the influx was "great for the economy."

"It's just kind of a morbid way to boost the economy," he said. "I'd rather find some other way."

After news of Hannah's rescue, Wellington, the broker, added a new message to the electronic sign outside his office.

"Good job law enforcement."

kate.mather@latimes.com

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