Something wasn’t right to riders who helped police find, save teen

Kidnapper, girl seemed ill-equipped for trail, retired sheriff says

Standing out in front of the Ada County Sheriff's Office in Boise, witnesses, from left to right, Mary Young, Mike Young, Mark John, and Christa John speak with news reporters Sunday about their sighting of Hannah Anderson and James DiMaggio.
Standing out in front of the Ada County Sheriff's Office in Boise, witnesses, from left to right, Mary Young, Mike Young, Mark John, and Christa John speak with news reporters Sunday about their sighting of Hannah Anderson and James DiMaggio.

BOISE — Almost from the moment he laid eyes on 16-year-old Hannah Anderson and her abductor, James Lee DiMaggio, horseback rider Mark John said something just didn’t seem right about the pair.

Initially it was the lack of openness on the trail, a reluctance to engage in polite banter like so many other recreationists Mr. John has encountered during his horseback excursions into Idaho’s back country.

The two seemed out of place, said Mr. John, a retired sheriff of Gem County, Idaho, who was riding with his wife and another couple when they encountered the pair last week.

Mr. John and the others wondered why Miss 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, that made the two look out of place.

Neither had hiking boots or rain gear. DiMaggio, 40, described as an avid hiker in his home state of California, had only a light pack.

It even appeared Miss Anderson wore pajama bottoms.

“They just didn’t fit,” said Mr. John, 71. “He might have been an outdoorsman in California, but he was not an outdoorsman in Idaho. ... Red flags kind of went up.”

Sunday, Mr. John and his three riding mates shared details from their encounters with Miss Anderson and DiMaggio that helped focus the massive manhunt and rescue effort on a corner of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, a 3,600-square-mile roadless preserve in the heart of Idaho.

After searchers found the pair by air Saturday, two specialized FBI hostage teams moved in on ground, rescuing Miss Anderson and killing DiMaggio in a shootout at their encampment at a remote lake. Miss Anderson was transported to an unidentified hospital.

She was expected to be reunited with her father, Brett Anderson, on Sunday. Authorities did not disclose details of their meeting.

DiMaggio is also suspected of killing Miss Anderson’s mother and brother.

FBI agents returned Sunday to process the scene at the camp at Morehead Lake, about 8 miles inside the wilderness border and 40 miles east of the central Idaho town of Cascade.

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

The four riders had a second encounter with Miss Anderson and DiMaggio later Wednesday, this one at the lake as they readied to head back down the trail.

The Youngs and Johns recalled seeing Miss Anderson soak her feet in the lake and again avoid interaction. But 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,” Ms. Young said.

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, Mr. John called Idaho State Police, setting off the investigation in Idaho.

Details about the operation that ended in the rescue are being released slowly.

FBI spokesman Jason Pack said the rescue teams were dropped by helicopter about 2½ hours away from where Miss Anderson and DiMaggio were spotted by the lake. Mr. Pack said the team had to hike with up to 100 pounds of tactical gear along a rough trail.

The teams surrounded the camp and waited until Miss Anderson and Mr. DiMaggio were no longer near each other before moving in, ultimately killing DiMaggio.

Few other details about the shootout are being released pending an automatic inquiry by FBI agents of everything that occurred before, during, and after the shooting.

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

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.

Authorities have said DiMaggio had an “unusual infatuation” with Hannah.

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said Saturday the girl’s father, Mr. Anderson, was “elated” she was found alive. “Obviously, he was very relieved and very excited and looking forward to being reunited with his daughter,” he said.

Police said they are still trying to identify what prompted the crimes.