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Teen, abductor stood out in US wilderness

12 August 2013, 12:31

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Boise — The horseback riders who encountered a missing California teen and her abductor said on Sunday that "red flags" went up for them because the pair seemed out of place and ill-equipped for the wilderness of the western state of Idaho.

Initially it was the lack of openness on the trail, a reluctance to engage in the polite exchange of banter or adventures like so many other recreationists Mark John has encountered during his various horseback excursions into Idaho's rugged backcountry.

Then John and his partners on horseback puzzled why 16-year-old Hannah Anderson and James Lee 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 sporting hiking boots or rain gear. The 40-year-old 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.

"They just didn't fit," said the 71-year-old John, who retired as Gem County sheriff in 1996. "He might have been an outdoorsman in California but he was not an outdoorsman in Idaho ... Red flags kind of went up."

At a news conference on Sunday in Boise, John and his three riding mates shared details of their encounters with Anderson and DiMaggio and helped focus the massive manhunt and rescue effort on a southwest corner of wilderness in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, a 930 000 hectare roadless preserve in the heart of Idaho.

Second encounter

On Saturday, after searchers spotted the pair by air, two highly-specialised FBI hostage teams moved in on ground, ultimately rescuing Anderson and killing DiMaggio in a shootout at their encampment at a remote, alpine lake.

Anderson was immediately transported to an unidentified hospital. She was expected to be reunited with her father, Brett Anderson, earlier on Sunday, but authorities did not disclose any details of their meeting.

DiMaggio is also suspected of killing Anderson's mother and brother at his home in Southern California.

On Sunday, FBI agents returned to process the scene at the camp at Morehead Lake, about 12km inside the wilderness border and 64km east of the central Idaho town of Cascade.

But authorities made clear on Sunday that the rescue may have taken longer if not for the chance encounter with John and the other riders, who included John's wife Christa, aged 68; Mike Young, aged 62, and his wife, Mary Young, aged 61.

The four riders had a second encounter with Anderson and DiMaggio later on Wednesday, this one at the lake as they were getting ready to head back down the trail. The Youngs and Johns recalled seeing Anderson soak her feet in the lake and again avoid interaction. Still, nothing about the behaviour of Anderson or DiMaggio raised suspicion.

Charred bodies

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. After confirming with the Youngs, Mark John immediately called Idaho State Police, setting off the investigation in Idaho.

On Friday, police found DiMaggio's car, hidden under brush at a trailhead on the border of the wilderness area. Details about the operation that ended in Hannah's rescue are being released slowly.

FBI spokesperson Jason Pack said the rescue teams were dropped by helicopter about 2.5 hours away from where Anderson and DiMaggio were spotted by the lake. Pack said the team had to hike with up to 45.3kg of tactical gear along a rough trail characterised by steep switchbacks and treacherous footing.

The teams then surrounded the camp and waited until Anderson and DiMaggio were no longer near each other before moving in, and ultimately killing DiMaggio. Few other details about the shootout are being released pending an automatic investigation by FBI agents of everything that occurred before, during and after the shooting.

The case began when the charred bodies of Hannah Anderson's mother, Christina Anderson, aged 44, and the teen's 8-year-old brother, Ethan Anderson, were found in DiMaggio's burning house outside San Diego, near the Mexico border.

DiMaggio was close to the family. Christina Anderson's husband, Brett Anderson, has described him as a best friend and said the children thought of him as an uncle.

Healing time

Authorities have said DiMaggio had an "unusual infatuation" with Hannah, although the father said he never saw any strange behaviour.

Brett Anderson has not returned telephone messages left on Sunday by The Associated Press. But he issued a statement to the media on Saturday expressing relief his daughter is safe.

The father described a range of emotion in a text message to CNN.

"I am nervous excited saddened 4 my wife and son and worried what my daughter has been through," he wrote to the network. "It's now healing time. Keep us in your prayers."

- AP

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