FBI adds agents to Idaho search for teen, alleged kidnapper

jsowell@idahostatesman.comAugust 10, 2013 

— The FBI brought in 100 to 150 agents from across the country Saturday to help searchers who have worked since Friday to find suspected kidnapper James DiMaggio in the rugged terrain of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. As many as 200 law enforcement officials were expected to be part of the search effort by day's end.

Jason Pack, a special agent in the bureau's Washington, D.C., office, reiterated the sentiment of other law enforcement officials who have said the safe recovery of 16-year-old Hannah Anderson remains the top priority for searchers.

"We're all parents. This is our child," Pack said.

The FBI has brought in search specialists, crisis negotiators and other specialists trained for this kind of situation, he said.

The FBI agents will replace local, state and other federal law enforcement agencies who sent officers to begin the search Friday. Ada County had a dozen members of its tactical team helping with the search.

All of the searchers are law enforcement agents. Unlike an overdue camper or hunter situation, where volunteer search and rescue teams could be employed, the potential danger of the search for DiMaggio prevents that.

"The suspect is presumed to be armed. You can't have volunteers going in to search for him," said Andrea Dearden, spokeswoman for the Ada County Sheriff's Office.

Officers pursuing DiMaggio and Anderson are searching by air and on foot. Searches traveled the steep terrain with horses Friday, but there are no agents on horseback Saturday.

"You can't just drive in there. It's rugged terrain. It's a wilderness area," Dearden said.

Some of the traditional search tactics would not work in the rugged backcountry terrain, she said.

“We’re relying on any lead possible,” she said. Authorities also set up a tip line for anyone with information in the case: (208) 846-7676.

“We have teams that are highly trained, that’s why they’re here," she said. "They’re the best of the best.”

There's been no sign of DiMaggio and Anderson since a Gem County man on horseback believes he saw the pair about 5 p.m. Wednesday. He contacted authorities later that night after returning home and seeing news reports.

There have been no new sightings since Wednesday, although Dearden said outdoor enthusiasts are still in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.

“There are dozens of people in there now, floating or camping,” Dearden said.

Authorities are questioning people as they come through the checkpoints, she said, but so far no one has spotted Anderson or DiMaggio.

The bodies of Anderson's mother Christina, 44, and her brother, 8-year-old Ethan Anderson, were found Sunday in DiMaggio's burned home near the Mexican border, about 65 miles east of San Diego.

DiMaggio's car, a 2013 blue Nissan Versa, was found Friday morning at a trailhead leading to the wilderness, 50 to 60 miles east of Cascade. It was covered in brush and the license plates were removed.

Authorities confirmed it was DiMaggio's car from the vehicle identification number.

Members of the San Diego Sheriff's Office were set to begin examining the car Saturday to search for evidence tied to the murders of Christina and Ethan Anderson and to learn anything about where DiMaggio and Hannah Anderson are headed.

Saturday morning update

Dawn broke with a yellow sun peeking through smoky haze caused by nearby forest fires as the search for DiMaggio began for the second day.

Overnight, members of the Boise Police Department bomb squad found no explosives in the 2013 blue Nissan Versa belonging to DiMaggio, according to a department tweet. Processing of any possible evidence in the car, which was left where it was found near Morehead Lake in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, has not yet begun, the department said.

That processing is expected to be done by members of the San Diego County Sheriff's Office from California, Patrick Orr, a spokesman for the Ada County Sheriff's Office, said Friday evening.

The California agency is more familiar with DiMaggio and has been investigating the murders of Christina Anderson, 44, and her son, 8-year-old Ethan Anderson, Orr said. Their bodies were found Sunday in DiMaggio's burned home near the Mexican border, about 65 miles east of San Diego.

DiMaggio is believed to be traveling with Anderson's 16-year-old daughter, Hannah.

On Wednesday, A Gem County man riding on horseback encountered a man and a teenage girl in the River of No Return wilderness. After coming home and hearing news reports and seeing photos of DiMaggio and Hannah Anderson, he dialed the national Amber Alert hotline and told officials he may have spotted the pair.

He told authorities the pair was carrying camping gear and was hiking into the wilderness. They exchanged pleasantries and the pair seemed in good health.

On Friday, the Versa owned by DiMaggio was found parked at a trailhead. It was covered in brush and the license plates had been removed. It was identified through the car's vehicle identification number, located on the dashboard just inside the windshield.

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.

More than 100 members of law enforcement will search the area Saturday. The FBI, the federal Bureau of Homeland Security and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game are assisting in the search. Ada County sent a dozen members of its tactical team to help.

National media have started to descend on Cascade. Miguel Marquez, a CNN correspondent based in Los Angeles, flew in to Boise last night along with a photographer. The San Diego Union-Tribune is also sending a reporter and photographer to Cascade.

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