California kidnapper’s fascination with victim results in tragedy

Posted at 11:20 AM, Aug 12, 2013

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — When James DiMaggio died in a confrontation with an FBI tactical agent deep in the Idaho wilderness this weekend, he took with him the reason why he killed a family friend and her son — and took her 16-year-old daughter captive.

His weeklong run with the teen, Hannah Anderson, spurred an intense and frantic manhunt that spanned from Southern California to Central Idaho.

It came to an end Saturday afternoon when a tip from horseback riders sent FBI agents swarming to the camping spot outside Cascade.

Hannah did not appear to have significant physical injuries — and was reunited with her father Sunday.

“Obviously we would have liked for Mr. DiMaggio to surrender and face justice in the court of law,” San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said. “But that’s not going to be the case.”

But there were some signs, Hanna’s grandparents said — signs that DiMaggio was infatuated with Hannah and signs he was trying to lure the family to his home in rural San Diego County, near the Mexican border

Interest in Hannah

The signs were subtle, according to grandparents Ralph and Sara Britt, also of San Diego.

“He seemed to enjoy being with Hannah and her friends … more and more,” Ralph Britt said, shaking his head. “But he’s been with the kids for years.”

DiMaggio’s friendship with the family predated Hannah’s birth.

“There was no danger sign, nothing that you would act on, say it was wrong,” he said. “It was just friendly.”

But a friend of Hannah’s said she saw a different side to the relationship between DiMaggio and the teen.

Marissa Chavez told CNN that she was in a car with Hannah and DiMaggio, 40, a few months ago when he told Hannah he had a crush on her.

He followed it up by saying if he was her age, he would date Hannah, Chavez said.

Hannah was unnerved by the comments, but did not tell her mother because she did not want to ruin the close relationship that her parents had with DiMaggio, Chavez said.

But Hannah did not want to be alone with DiMaggio after that, according to Chavez.

“I don’t think she would have gone willingly with him at all,” she said.

In an earlier episode, Chavez recalled a trip that DiMaggio and Hannah took to Hollywood.

The trip was supposed to be for one week, but Hannah told Chavez that they came back after two days because DiMaggio was upset that she wasn’t paying enough attention to him.

‘Uncle Jim’

The family’s relationship with DiMaggio had been long and close. Hannah referred to him as “Uncle Jim.”

Her grandmother, Sara Britt, said DiMaggio would have done anything for them and they would have returned the favor.

“My message is to parents: Just be more aware, more conscious of what’s going on,” Britt said. “Life gets busy, but take the time. If anything, learn something from this and that is just to be more aware for your children.”

Ralph Britt added: “I guess you can’t really tell the book by its cover,” he said. “It was just complete shock. We didn’t have any idea. I don’t know what you would look for.”

House foreclosed

In the weeks before DiMaggio’s home in rural San Diego County went up in flames, he pleaded for the Andersons to visit him one last time.

He had lost the home to foreclosure and said he was moving back to Texas.

“We feel it was planned at this point based on the information that’s out there,” said Sara Britt. “It’s so unfortunate. Apparently he tried to get her up there before, but she couldn’t go and so … she went, took the dog and the kids.”

Hannah went missing after cheerleading practice in San Diego County, California, on August 3.

The next day, the bodies of her mother, Christina Anderson, 42, and 8-year-old brother, Ethan, were found about 45 miles east in DiMaggio’s burned house in Boulevard. The body of a dog was also recovered, police said.

That horror spurred an Amber Alert and a manhunt, which zeroed in on central Idaho after two critical clues: the discovery of DiMaggio’s blue Nissan Versa outside the city of Cascade and a sighting of the pair by horseback riders.

‘Red flags’

One of the horseback riders on Sunday described multiple “red flags” that were raised during their brief interaction with the pair, including their brand-new camping equipment and the pajama-like bottoms Hannah was wearing.

Mark John recalled the interaction as “just like a square peg going into a round hole. They didn’t fit.”

Another rider, Mike Young, said it looked like Hannah “had a scared look on her face,” adding about DiMaggio: “I just had a gut feeling about him.”

Unaware of the Amber Alert, however, the horseback riders continued on, and only after seeing a news report on the pair upon returning home did the group put the puzzle pieces together.

“When I seen that picture on the screen, I told my wife, I said, ‘That is the girl that was up on that mountain,’” John recalled.

Hundreds of law enforcement agents scoured 300 square miles of rough terrain, hampered by the smoke from nearby wildfires.

The rescue

Late Saturday afternoon, they spotted the pair’s campsite near Morehead Lake, Idaho. But the topography was so steep, helicopters had to drop authorities off far away from the camp.

Hostage rescue teams had to hike more than two hours to get to the scene, local sheriffs’ departments said.

They moved in carefully so they wouldn’t alert DiMaggio that they were coming.

“Once the teams set up, they waited until DiMaggio and Hannah separated and moved in,” the Valley and Ada county sheriffs’ offices said.

Authorities ushered Hannah to an area where a helicopter could whisk her away.

At some point, a “confrontation” ensued between authorities and DiMaggio, Gore said. The confrontation ended when an FBI tactical agent shot and killed the murder and kidnapping suspect.

‘Hannah is safe’

Hannah didn’t appear to have significant physical injuries, but was immediately taken to a hospital. She was reunited with her father, Brett Anderson on Sunday.

“Hannah is safe, and that was our first priority from the very beginning,” Valley County, Idaho, Sheriff Patti Bolen said.

In his text to CNN, Anderson expressed a range of emotions upon hearing of his daughter’s rescue soon after his wife and son’s death.

“I am nervous excited saddened 4 my wife and son and worried what my daughter has been through,” he wrote.

Bittersweet outcome

Grief over the deaths of Hannah’s mother and brother gave way to euphoria after the teen was found alive.

“We’re very excited,” Sara Britt said Sunday. “Just ecstatic. Jubilation. We couldn’t ask for anything more. This is the outcome we wanted.”

But the outcome was also bittersweet for Britt and her husband who lost their daughter Christina and grandson Ethan in the ordeal.

DiMaggio was such good friends with the family that Brett Anderson said he can’t reconcile the man he knows with the crimes he is suspected of.

“I have been through every scenario in my brain,” Anderson said. “There was nothing ever to show any indication of this.”

DiMaggio joined the family on campouts and was always friendly toward them, he said.

“I can’t fathom what happened in Jim’s head. He obviously just lost it,” Anderson said.