A teenage girl who had been missing for a week was recovering in hospital today, after being kidnapped by a San Diego man who police believe had earlier killed her mother and younger brother. Her abductor, James DiMaggio, a close family friend, was shot dead by police late on Saturday.
The dramatic rescue of Hannah Anderson, 16, by FBI agents deep inside an Idaho wilderness area was the climax of an intense manhunt that had expanded across the western United States over the past week.
It was an outcome that offered relief to Hannah’s family who, under the gaze of TV news cameras, had been praying for her rescue while at the same time grieving for her mother, Christina Anderson, 44, and her brother Ethan, eight. It was also certain to lead to questions about the exact circumstances of the killing by FBI agents of DiMaggio.
The girl’s father, Brett Anderson, was on his way to Idaho last night for a reunion with his daughter. “Now it’s healing time,” he told CNN.
The teenager had last been seen on 3 August at cheerleading practice in a San Diego suburb. The day after she vanished, police found the remains of two people, later identified as Christina and Ethan, in DiMaggio’s burned-out house. Investigators concluded that he had set the fire himself and then absconded with Hannah.
While tips came in from across the western US, the big break came from two horseback riders who passed a middle-aged man and a teenage girl on a trail in the rugged Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. Agents travelling on foot, horseback and in helicopters closed in on a campground where DiMaggio had pitched a tent.
The authorities insisted that their greatest concern had been for the girl’s welfare. Andrea Dearden, a Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman, said: “Hannah is safe and that’s the best outcome we were hoping for – our top priority.” Mary Rook, a spokeswoman for the FBI, added that agents had faced a “very challenging situation” in the forest. She declined to offer more information pending an internal FBI investigation.
“Now that Hannah is safe and being evaluated in a medical facility, FBI victim specialists are working with Hannah and her family to get them the resources they need as they enter this next challenging phase of this incident,” Ms Rook said.
The two riders told police they saw no signs of distress on the teenager’s face when they encountered her and DiMaggio, nor any sign that she was being coerced. Police investigators were preparing to question her directly about the days she spent with DiMaggio, who had earlier been described as akin to an uncle.
Police have determined that he bought camping gear some time before 3 August, suggesting he had been planning his run from the law with Hannah for some time.
Ralph Britt, Hannah’s grandfather, told NBC News today: “We don’t know what she saw or heard. Hannah is the only person who knows what happened that night.”
He and other relatives in San Diego said Hannah’s return to safety meant they would finally have the space to mourn Christina and Ethan. Sara Britt, Hannah’s grandmother, said: “We are excited to have our granddaughter home. We had to put the murder of Ethan and Tina on hold in the back of our minds because we had to totally focus on Hannah.”
She added that she did not necessarily regret that the episode had ended in DiMaggio’s death. “The way it ended up for Hannah and Jim, it’s fitting,” she said.