11 Facts About the Hannah Anderson Kidnapping and AMBER Alerts

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Image via Flickr user pasa47.

This week, the country was captivated by the story of California teen Hannah Anderson, kidnapped by a family friend and rescued by the FBI in Idaho.

Hannah, who is 16, was reportedly taken by James DiMaggio, a close family friend. The search for the teenager began last Sunday when the bodies of her brother and mother were found in DiMaggio’s home, which was burned down.

AMBER Alerts went out, and the ensuing media coverage helped witnesses identify them and alert authorities.

Unfortunately, abductions happen. It’s good to be aware of these cases and to realize that helping to spread the word – and the photographs of both the alleged abductors and abductees – can actually help. So here’s what you should know about the Hannah Anderson case.

1. Hannah’s captor was a family friend.

The suspect was 40 year-old telecommunications technician James Lee DiMaggio, who was known around the Anderson family as “Uncle Jim.” He was close with the Anderson family – Hannah’s father apparently considered DiMaggio his best friend.

Hannah and Jim had even taken a trip to Hollywood together, though they reportedly ended it early after an argument.

Ralph Britt, Hannah Anderson’s grandfather, said,

“He was Uncle Jim. We had known him for years when Hannah was born.”

Hannah’s relationship with DiMaggio is unclear.

By the way, 27 percent of all kidnappings in the United States are “acquaintance kidnappings” like Hannah’s, where the victim is taken by someone they know.

2. An AMBER Alert was issued in five states.

AMBER Alert Hannah Anderson

The AMBER Alert about Hannah Anderson and James DiMaggio. Robert Couse-Baker / Flickr.

Anderson is from San Diego County, Calif., in Southern California. She was found pretty far away from home – all the way up in Idaho. The week-long search had AMBER Alerts issued in California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, and Idaho. Plus Mexico and Canada.

The alert in California was the first and came via text message to people all over the state.

3. DiMaggio (the suspect) and the teen were spotted in Idaho by horseback riders.

On Wednesday, two couples – the Youngs and the Johns – were horseback riding in the wilderness in Idaho when they encountered James DiMaggio and Hannah Anderson. The couples didn’t know about the AMBER Alert until they returned home on Thursday night. When they saw that DiMaggio was wanted for kidnapping Hannah, they promptly called authorities.

The two couples, in retrospect, recalled a few red flags in the encounter:

1. Hannah was wearing pajamas, clothes not very suitable for hiking in rugged terrain.
2. She hid her face and seemed scared.
3. They were not friendly.
4. They seemed to be both going the wrong way and lacking adequate gear and backcountry know-how.

The next day, after the riders contacted the authorities, DiMaggio’s blue Nissan Versa was found covered in brush, without its license plates.

4. The sighting of Hannah has been described as “one in a trillion.”

Where they were hiking, the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, is within a pretty large swath of wilderness.

So the chances of those other wilderness lovers running into them – which they did not once, but twice – is pretty remote.

5. DiMaggio also allegedly murdered Hannah’s mother and younger brother.

The police found Hannah’s mother, 44-year-old Christina Anderson, dead in DiMaggio’s burned-down home on August 4. A child’s body was also found. At first police did not initially confirm that it was that of Hannah’s 8-year-old brother, Ethan, but DNA analysis eventually concluded that the body was Ethan’s.

UPDATE: Hannah didn’t know her mother and brother had been killed until after she was rescued.

6. The rescue in Idaho was pretty complicated.

The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness area. Image via Flickr user D Guisinger.

When we say that terrain was rugged, we mean it was rugged. The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness area is one of the largest areas of wilderness in the continental United States.

Think: mountain lions, wolves, and bears. The FBI search team looked for Hannah and DiMaggio by helicopter and horseback. The areas around the pair’s campsite were also incredibly steep, further complicating the search and rescue effort.

7. Some have said that DiMaggio had a crush on Hannah.

Marissa Chavez, a friend of Hannah’s, told reporters that DiMaggio had told Hannah that he had a crush on her and would date her if she was older.

Not surprisingly, Chavez said Hannah was creeped out by the exchange, but did not tell her parents. The friend also said that she didn’t think Hannah would have willingly gone with DiMaggio.

8. The FBI shot and killed Jim DiMaggio, the suspect.

http://youtu.be/c0ZC4oJEKMI

There’s still a lot that’s unknown about the confrontation between the FBI’s search team and DiMaggio.

On the shooting, San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said, “Obviously, we would have liked Mr. DiMaggio to surrender and face justice in a court of law, but that’s not going to be the case.”

The FBI is now investigating the entire incident.

DiMaggio’s motives for the murders and kidnapping are unclear, and since he was killed during Hannah’s rescue, it’s not certain they’ll ever become fully known to the public.

9. The AMBER Alert program began in 1996.

AMBER Alerts were pretty crucial in the safe recovery of Hannah.

Here’s a little background on the program:

AMBER Alert

An AMBER Alert on a smartphone. Justin Schuck / Flickr.

The program was recently updated: now phones in surrounding areas of an alert receive notifications.

10. DiMaggio was killed on the anniversary of his father’s suicide.

In a weird twist, it was revealed that DiMaggio’s father committed suicide in very similar circumstances on August 10, 1998 – 15 years to the day before DiMaggio was killed during the rescue.

The elder James DiMaggio apparently had drug and violence problems leading to his suicide. Before he was found and killed, friends of DiMaggio Jr. said they were worried that he would commit suicide on Saturday.

11. Hannah is alive and okay.

The teen was found on Saturday.

https://twitter.com/biazzap/status/366789474811772929

She is currently in the hospital and was reunited with her father in Idaho on Sunday. She was greeted by crisis counselors and doctors, though nothing was said specifically about her physical condition.

HOW TO TAKE ACTION

Learn about the AMBER alert system on your smartphone >>

Support the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children >>

Read the FBI’s stories of missing children >>

Images used under Creative Commons licensing.

Lily Altavena

Lily is a production assistant at MSNBC and a recent NYU grad. She interned for Ann Curry's team at NBC News, The New York Times, The Village Voice, and the education nonprofit She's the First. Her interests range from politics to education to comedy. She is not actually a dinosaur. Follow: @lilyalta.

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