The hunt for teen-ager Hanna Anderson and her suspected abductor, James Lee DiMaggio, which began in southern California earlier this week, now is focused on a 300 square-mile portion of one of the roughest, most spectacular wilderness areas in North America.
The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area in central Idaho, covering more than two million acres, includes more than 200 miles of trails through its steep mountains and deep canyons, crossing wild whitewater rivers that draw kayakers and anglers from around the world.
Wolf packs roam the area, feeding on elk and other prey. Backpackers, rafters, and those on horseback are instructed to “leave no trace” when they visit.
Mr. DiMaggio is suspected in the death of Christina Anderson, the abduction of her 16-year-old daughter Hannah, and the death of her 8-year old son Ethan. Ms. Anderson's body was found in DiMaggio's burning home east of San Diego, near the body of a child identified Friday night as that of Ethan Anderson.
DiMaggio, 40, has been described as a long-time close friend of the Anderson family – “like an uncle” to Hannah and Ethan – who apparently became romantically infatuated with the girl. Another girl described Hannah as “a little creeped out” by DiMaggio’s attention, including his suggestion that they might date if they were the same age.
Responses to “Amber alert” notifications via broadcast media, roadside electronic signs, and automatic cell phone messages tracked DiMaggio’s blue Nissan Versa automobile on a two-lane highway through rural northern California and central Oregon.
The abandoned car – covered with brush and its license plates removed – was found Friday morning about 40 miles east of the tiny town of Cascade, Idaho, parked where the dirt road ends and a trailhead enters the wilderness area.
A horseback rider reported seeing a man and girl hiking in the area two days earlier, but didn’t realize who they might be until he got home and saw the Amber Alert.
"If you wanted to go days without being seen, that's the place to do it," Jared Hopkinson, the owner of Rocky Mountain River Tours in Stanley, Idaho, told the Associated Press. "There's a few river lodges that are accessible by fixed wing plane and raft, but other than that it is untouched by mankind, the same way it was when there were dinosaurs."
More than 100 people were either searching or on their way to help Friday evening, the Idaho Statesman newspaper reported Saturday.
“Searchers on horseback, on foot and on ATVs in areas with access – the wilderness area restricts motorized vehicles – are looking for signs of DiMaggio and Hannah,” the Boise newspaper reported. “Helicopters from the Idaho Air National Guard were also deployed. The US Customs and Border Protection loaned a helicopter to fly searchers from Boise to Cascade.”
According to Brett Anderson, Hannah’s father, DiMaggio is an experienced outdoorsman who joined the family on camping trips. Authorities say the suspected abductor had recently purchased backpacking equipment.
The horseback rider who encountered the pair on the trail Wednesday said they exchanged pleasantries, and he reported that the girl did not seem to be in distress.
She may not know that her mother and brother were killed. She may have joined DiMaggio voluntarily, although that seems unlikely based on her friend’s report that she did not want to be alone with him after he indicated a romantic interest.
It may be that he threatened her or her family members if she were to express alarm when encountering others, such as the horseback rider.
Authorities recall that this was the case when Elizabeth Smart, 14, was kidnapped from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2003. Several times during her ordeal, Ms. Smart had the opportunity to tell police officers of her situation but didn’t do so because kidnapper Brian David Mitchell had threatened her family. She was rescued nine months later.