August 10, 2013 in Nation/World

Kidnap suspect’s car discovered in Idaho

John Sowell Idaho Statesman
Proper gear

The man on horseback in the Idaho wilderness area said the pair he encountered had hiking and camping gear that was appropriate for the area.

CASCADE, Idaho – Searchers from more than a half-dozen local, state and federal agencies combed more than 300 square miles of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area on Friday, searching for a man suspected of killing a California woman and her son and fleeing with the woman’s 16-year-old daughter.

A blue 2013 Nissan Versa driven by James DiMaggio was found Friday morning at a trailhead west of Morehead Lake. Although the car’s license plates had been removed, authorities confirmed it was DiMaggio’s car by checking the vehicle identification number and comparing it with California Department of Motor Vehicle records.

A man from Gem County who was riding his horse in the wilderness area on Wednesday spotted a man and a teenage girl about 6 to 8 miles east of where the car was later found. He talked with them briefly at about 5 p.m.

It wasn’t until the man got home that he learned about an Amber Alert issued by authorities seeking information on DiMaggio and 16-year-old Hannah Anderson and thought they were the pair he encountered, said Andrea Dearden, spokeswoman for the Ada County Sheriff’s Office. Ada County is handling public information on the search.

The man called Idaho State Police and reported his encounter. ISP troopers found DiMaggio’s car at about 9 a.m. Friday.

DiMaggio is believed by authorities to have abducted the teenager Sunday after allegedly killing her mother and 8-year-old brother in Boulevard, a rural border town in eastern San Diego County, and setting his house on fire.

DiMaggio has been described as a close friend of the Anderson family, but his relationship to the teen is unclear. He was described by authorities and neighbors as an outdoorsman.

An Amber Alert was issued in California and later extended to Oregon, Washington and Nevada. On Friday morning, it was activated in Idaho.

The man on horseback in the Idaho wilderness area said the pair he encountered had hiking and camping gear that was appropriate for the area. Dearden said she did not know how long they could survive in the wilderness without having to restock food and other supplies. Earlier in the day, San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said DiMaggio had bought camping gear a few weeks ago.

Dearden described the search area as remote.

“It’s a backcountry area. It’s a rugged area. It’s a very large area,” she said.

While searchers want to find DiMaggio and have him answer for the murders, they’re more concerned about the teenage girl.

“Our No. 1 priority is to find Hannah and bring her to safety,” Dearden said.

More than 100 people were either searching or on their way to help Friday evening. The Valley County Sheriff’s Office is heading the search, with assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Ada County Sheriff’s Office sent a dozen members of its tactical team, and at least three other agencies are assisting.

Searchers on horseback, on foot and on ATVs in areas with access – the wilderness area restricts motorized vehicles – are looking for signs of DiMaggio and Hannah. Helicopters from the Idaho Air National Guard were also deployed.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection loaned a helicopter to fly searchers from Boise to Cascade.

Investigators from San Diego will handle the search of DiMaggio’s Nissan and are getting a search warrant before they begin, said Patrick Orr, an Ada County sheriff’s spokesman. The search will be carried out where the car sits.

Reports couldn’t be confirmed Friday that DiMaggio’s car could be rigged with explosives, but Dearden said the agencies involved are taking care to make sure the car has nothing that might endanger someone.

Dearden said she did not know whether DiMaggio had hiked and camped in Idaho before. Likewise, she said she would not speculate on whether he had the skills and knowledge to remain in the wilderness for an extended period of time.

“I have heard him described as a survivalist. I don’t know how you define that.”

The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

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