August 11, 2013 / 12:41 AM / 5 years ago

California abductor, teen aroused suspicions in Idaho wilderness

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - Horseback riders who triggered a search that led to the rescue of a California teen said Sunday they became suspicious because she and her suspected abductor had new gear and appeared ill-equipped for the Idaho wilderness.

Ethan and Hannah Anderson are pictured in this undated handout photo courtesy of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department. REUTERS/San Diego County Sheriff's Department/Handout

The two were not especially friendly and appeared out of place in Idaho’s rugged backcountry, like “a square peg going into a round hole,” said Mark John, a retired Gem County, Idaho, sheriff who was riding with his wife and another couple when they encountered the pair last week.

Hannah Anderson, 16, was rescued and her suspected abductor James Lee DiMaggio, 40, shot and killed by an FBI agent in the weekend rescue. She was expected to be reunited with her father on Sunday, but authorities gave no details as to where and when.

Anderson was airlifted on Saturday evening from an alpine lake in west-central Idaho after her rescue in the rough terrain of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness that culminated in DiMaggio’s death.

The rescue came after a two-day manhunt by law enforcement agents in the rugged mountains for DiMaggio, who was wanted in the killing of Anderson’s mother, Christina Anderson, 44, and her brother Ethan, 8.

John, a rancher and retired U.S. Army Ranger, told a news conference that he and his wife and the other couple discussed among themselves the oddness of the situation. The encounters with Anderson and DiMaggio raised red flags for them.

The girl and man were not eager to speak with them and she appeared scared at times, though they were not sure if it was of the horses, the riders said.

Another of the riders, Mike Young, told reporters DiMaggio had set up camp on an exposed ridge that had no water source and where they might have been battered by strong winds or struck by lightning in a storm, also raising questions.

“He may have been an outdoorsman from California but he was not an outdoorsman from Idaho, he didn’t fit,” John said of DiMaggio.

DiMaggio, a longtime friend of the Anderson family, was killed by an FBI agent after he and the teenager were spotted at a primitive campsite on Saturday afternoon near Morehead Lake, about 90 miles northeast of Boise, the state capital.

It was unclear if DiMaggio was armed.


Authorities were withholding details about the shooting pending an FBI investigation. The FBI reviews the circumstances in any situation where an agent has fired a gun, Mary Rook, head of the FBI’s Salt Lake City office, said on Saturday.

The girl suffered no apparent injuries but was to be evaluated at an area hospital, Rook said.

On CNN, the children’s grandmother said the girl had loved to read to her little brother. “She was the best big sister ever,” Sara Britt, the grandmother, said.

She called Ethan “an ecstatic, happy little guy” who loved to fish.

The search of Western states for the pair narrowed to Idaho last week after the two couples riding horses in the backcountry reported seeing them on a trail near Morehead Lake.

The Frank Church wilderness stretches across 2.3 million acres of towering peaks, alpine forests and wild and scenic rivers in central Idaho.

Police found DiMaggio’s car, covered with brush and stripped of license plates, at a trailhead at the edge of the wilderness. That triggered a massive search on foot, horseback and air by federal, state and local law enforcement.

Anderson, her mother and her brother were last seen on August 3. The next day, DiMaggio, a telecommunications technician, is suspected of setting his home on fire in San Diego.

Police found the bodies of Christina Anderson and her young son in the house but have declined to say how they were killed.

The mountain rescue was complicated by steep terrain, and a helicopter was used to drop FBI hostage rescue teams far from the lake where DiMaggio set up camp. The teams hiked in for two hours, said Ada County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Patrick Orr.

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said on Saturday that the girl’s father, Brett Anderson, was “elated” she was found alive.

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“Obviously, he was very relieved and very excited and looking forward to being reunited with his daughter,” he said.

Police have said they are still trying to identify what prompted the crimes and DiMaggio’s motives.

“To do such a horrific act, it’s just not fathomable because he loved them too,” the children’s grandmother said on CNN.

Reporting by Laura Zuckerman; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Eric Beech and Cynthia Osterman

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