In her first broadcast interview since FBI sharpshooters killed alleged abductor James Lee DiMaggio, teenager Hannah Anderson has explained some of the details about her relationship with the man said to be “like an uncle” to her.
While law enforcement authorities have continued to insist that Hannah was “a victim in every sense of the word,” questions about her activities leading up to what has been portrayed as her rescue in an Idaho wilderness have persisted.
Why did she and Mr. DiMaggio have at least a dozen cellphone exchanges in the hours before authorities say the older man – against her will – took her north along rural highways through California and Oregon into Idaho?
At what point did she learn that her mother and younger brother had been killed in DiMaggio’s home, which was destroyed some 20 hours later in a fire ignited by timers?
What did she write in the bundle of letters found in DiMaggio’s home?
None of these questions were fully answered in Hannah’s interview on NBC’s “Today” show Thursday.
But the picture that emerges is of a southern California girl, recently turned 16, who in the past had turned to the older longtime family friend when her relationship with her parents hit a rough patch. (Brett and Christina Anderson had separated, and Mr. Anderson had moved to Tennessee.)
Hannah acknowledged as much in the interview, explaining the letters as having been written a year ago when she wasn’t getting along with her mother.
"Me and him would talk about how to deal with it," she said. "And I'd tell him how I felt about it. And he helped me through it. They weren't anything bad. They're just to help me through tough times."
Regarding her father, she said, his flying from Tennessee to join her in Idaho immediately following her rescue “got us closer.”
Search warrants describe the cellphone exchanges with DiMaggio as telephone calls, but Hannah said they were a series of text messages giving him directions to pick her up at a cheerleading camp. It was not unusual for DiMaggio to give rides to Hannah and her 8-year-old brother, Ethan, for school and recreational activities or for him to take them on trips.
Even before her ordeal, Hannah had told at least one friend that she had become uncomfortable being alone with DiMaggio, saying he once told her that he was drawn to her. This had left her feeling “a little creeped out,” according to the friend.
But writing as "Hannahbanana722" on the social-networking site Ask.fm shortly after her rescue, she explained, "He said it was more like a family crush like he had feelings as in he wanted nothing bad to happen to me.”
She said she didn't tell her parents because DiMaggio was his father's best friend (he’d been the best man at her parents' wedding) "and I didn't want to ruin anything between them."
That Hannah would have gone to social media just hours after she had returned to California from Idaho – commenting on her favorite colors and pop star Justin Bieber as well as answering questions about the episode that had just made her famous – drew suspicion and criticism. The account for "Hannahbanana722" was soon removed from Ask.fm.
While mental-health professionals may warn against going so quickly to social media in such traumatic circumstances, potentially exposing oneself to hurtful or hateful comments that amount to anonymous online bullying, Hannah in her NBC interview said that’s a natural place for teenagers to find a community of support – with strangers as well as with friends.
“I connect to them through Facebook, and Instagram is – it just helps me grieve, like, post pictures and to show how I’m feeling,” she said. “And I’m a teenager. I’m gonna go on it.”
It’s unclear whether Hannah will have anything more to say anytime soon about this episode in her life or whether law enforcement authorities will be any more forthcoming. Her broadcast interview is unlikely to end suspicions about the details of her abduction and captivity as well as what preceded it.
In any case, the story continues to make news.
This week, it was reported that DiMaggio’s family was seeking DNA evidence that might show he, in fact, was the biological father of Hannah and her brother. It was also revealed that DiMaggio had willed his $112,000 life-insurance policy to the children’s grandmother, presumably for their care.
A public memorial service for Ethan and Christina Anderson is scheduled for Saturday at a church in a San Diego suburb.