SAN DIEGO — A close family friend suspected of abducting a 16-year old girl after killing her mother and younger brother fired his rifle at FBI agents before they killed him deep in the Idaho wilderness, authorities said Monday.
Hannah Anderson didn’t know her mother and brother were dead until she was rescued from 40-year-old James Lee DiMaggio, San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said.
“I can’t make it any clearer: She was a victim in this case. She was not a willing participant,” Gore said at a news conference with Hannah’s father, Brett Anderson.
During a shootout with the FBI, DiMaggio fired at least once and perhaps twice, the sheriff explained.
Hannah Anderson reunited with family in San Diego to begin what her father said would be a slow recovery. He thanked the horseback riders who reported seeing the pair near an alpine lake, saying the search might have taken much longer without them.
“She has been through a tremendous, horrific ordeal,” said Brett Anderson, who declined to answer questions and pleaded for privacy.
The massive search spanning much of the Western United States and parts of Canada and Mexico probably would have taken longer if not for a sharp-eyed retired sheriff and three other horseback riders in the rugged backcountry hadn’t seen the pair Wednesday.
Mark John, who retired as a Gem County sheriff in 1996, shared his suspicions with the Idaho State Police after encountering DiMaggio and the girl on the trail. That enabled investigators to focus efforts on a specific portion of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, a roadless 3,600-square-mile preserve in the heart of Idaho.
“They just didn’t fit,” said John, 71. “He might have been an outdoorsman in California, but he was not an outdoorsman in Idaho. ... Red flags kind of went up.”
Initially, it was the lack of openness on the trail and a reluctance to engage in the polite exchange of banter like so many other recreationists John has encountered during horseback excursions.
The riders were puzzled why Anderson and DiMaggio were hiking in the opposite direction of their stated destination, the Salmon River.
But more than anything, it was their gear — or lack of it. Neither was wearing hiking boots or rain gear. DiMaggio, described as an avid hiker in his home state of California, was toting only a light pack. It even appeared Anderson was wearing pajama bottoms.
The riders had a second encounter Wednesday, this one at the lake as they were getting ready to head back down the trail. They saw Hannah Anderson soak her feet in the lake and again avoid interaction. Still, nothing about their behavior raised suspicion that DiMaggio was wanted for murder and kidnapping.
“If she was sending us signals that she was in trouble, we didn’t key in on it,” Mary Young, 61, said at a news conference Sunday in Boise.
It wasn’t until Thursday afternoon when the Johns returned home and saw the girl’s photographs on the news that they made a connection and notified police.
On Friday, police found DiMaggio’s car, hidden under brush at a trailhead on the border of the wilderness area. A day later, searchers spotted the pair by air, and two FBI hostage teams moved in on the camp at Morehead Lake, about 8 miles inside the wilderness border and 40 miles east of the central Idaho town of Cascade.
Rescue teams were dropped by helicopter about 2 1/2 hours away from where Anderson and DiMaggio were spotted by the lake, said FBI spokesman Jason Pack. The team had to hike with up to 100 pounds of tactical gear along a rough trail characterized by steep switchbacks and treacherous footing.
The teams waited until Anderson and DiMaggio were no longer near each other before moving in.
The case began when the charred bodies of Anderson’s mother, Christina Anderson, 44, and the teen’s 8-year-old brother, Ethan Anderson, were found in DiMaggio’s burning house in Boulevard, a small town 65 miles east of San Diego on the U.S.-Mexico border.
DiMaggio was extraordinarily close to the family, driving Hannah to gymnastics meets and Ethan to football practice.
Authorities have said DiMaggio may have had an “unusual infatuation” with Hannah, although the father said he never saw any strange behavior.
Valley County Coroner Nathan Hess was performing an autopsy on DiMaggio Monday.