SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A California fugitive suspected of kidnapping a teenage girl after killing her mother and possibly her brother eluded detection for a fourth day on Thursday and may have booby-trapped his getaway car or a hideout with explosives, police said.
The public warning, which police said was based on newly uncovered evidence, came as authorities escalated a multi-state manhunt for 40-year-old computer technician James Lee DiMaggio, described as a longtime friend of the family.
He is wanted in the killing of Christina Anderson, 44, and in the disappearance of her two children, 16-year-old Hannah and 8-year-old Ethan, all of whom were last seen on Saturday, the day before he is suspected of setting his own house on fire.
Authorities have not revealed how the mother was killed. Her body was found on Sunday night inside DiMaggio’s flame-ravaged rural home in the San Diego County community of Boulevard, not far from the California-Mexico border, along with the badly burned remains of an unidentified child.
Authorities have said the child’s body may be that of Ethan Anderson, but that it will take more time for medical examiners to make a positive identification.
The children’s father, Brett Anderson, who now lives in Tennessee, has said he presumes the body is that of his son, though investigators said they have yet to rule out the possibility that DiMaggio has abducted both Anderson children.
The father, who in a televised message earlier this week pleaded with DiMaggio to let his daughter go and advised the teenager to make a run for it, described Hannah and Ethan in a CNN interview on Thursday as loving, outgoing children who were active in school and sports.
“There’s nothing bad to say about my kids. They never did anything to anybody. They were always wonderful. We were pretty tight knit, even though I was a couple thousand miles away,” he said.
Asked about DiMaggio, a longtime family friend said to have been like an uncle to the children, Anderson said, “I can’t fathom what happened in Jim’s head, what happened. He obviously lost it.”
A statewide child-abduction notice, called an Amber Alert, was issued in California on Monday for both children, and authorities said DiMaggio was initially believed to be headed by car for Texas or Canada. He previously lived in Houston.
Subsequent alerts were issued on Wednesday in Oregon and Washington state after a car matching the description of the vehicle DiMaggio was believed to be driving was spotted headed north in northern California near the Oregon border.
The abduction alert was also extended to Nevada, Mexico and British Columbia, according to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department homicide detective overseeing the case, Lieutenant Glenn Giannantonio.
He warned members of the public to consider the suspect dangerous and possibly armed.
“We have reason to believe DiMaggio may have placed incendiary devices or booby traps on his vehicle or in the area where he’s staying,” the detective said.
He said police and FBI agents taking part in the investigation had no firm clue as to the suspect’s whereabouts or intended destination, and that there was no particular geographic focus to the manhunt so far.
Authorities had received numerous reports of possible sightings, though none had been confirmed, he said. No communication had been received from the suspect or from Hannah Anderson.
“We are still believing they could be anywhere in the country,” he said, adding that investigators believed DiMaggio, considered an avid outdoorsman, could be holed up in a remote, backcountry area.
Authorities have said they have no evidence of a precipitating incident or circumstances that might have led to the crimes DiMaggio is suspected of committing.
Reporting Marty Graham in San Diego; Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Andrew Hay