SAN DIEGO — A 16-year-old California girl clarified some details Thursday about her relationship with the family friend who authorities say killed her mother and 8-year-old brother before abducting the teen, including that her communications with him that day were about her being picked up at cheerleading practice.
Hannah Anderson was kidnapped by family friend James Lee DiMaggio on Aug. 4 after the killings at his rural house east of San Diego and fled with the teen, authorities have said. Forty-four-year-old Christina Anderson and her son Ethan’s bodies were discovered after DiMaggio set fire to his home in Boulevard, investigators say. DiMaggio was killed days later in a shootout with authorities during which Anderson was rescued.
San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore has declined to discuss a possible motive and investigators haven’t publicly addressed other aspects of the case, including why the family went to DiMaggio’s home, the nature of letters from Hannah that were discovered in DiMaggio’s home and how Hannah was treated in captivity.
Anderson herself did not speak about the nature of her relationship with DiMaggio in an interview with NBC’s “Today” show that aired Thursday but did try to explain for herself details that have emerged about communications between them.
According to search warrants, Anderson exchanged about 13 phone calls with DiMaggio before she was picked up from cheerleading practice that day. But Anderson told “Today” that communications were texts, not calls, and she was telling DiMaggio where to pick her up.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said it could not immediately explain the discrepancy.
Anderson also said that the letters found in DiMaggio’s home were written about a year ago when she was having trouble getting along with her mother and she sought advice from DiMaggio.
“They were just to help me through tough times,” she said in her first news interview since her rescue.
Anderson had gone online a few days after she was rescued and answered questions on social media, a choice some questioned given her ordeal and subsequent media scrutiny. She said she was surprised by the sometimes cruel responses she got.
But she had a straightforward answer for why she talked online: “I’m a teenager.”
She said she and her friends communicate the most often through social media including Facebook and Instagram and that talking to her friends helped her grieve.
She was at turns defiant and shaken in the “Today” interview, declaring that she’s a survivor and plans to try out for varsity gymnastics this year but breaking down when asked to describe her younger brother.
“In the beginning, I was a victim,” she said, “but now knowing everyone out there was helping I consider myself a survivor instead.”
FBI agents rescued Anderson during a shootout in the Idaho wilderness that killed DiMaggio days after she was kidnapped. She said in the interview that she had no idea there was a massive search effort underway for her but thanked all those who looked and who have supported her.
The interview gave no details about what happened after DiMaggio kidnapped her, including whether he told her that her mother and brother were killed or whether she tried to escape. Gore, the San Diego sheriff, has said Hannah didn’t know about their deaths until she was rescued.
DiMaggio set fire to his home using a timer, giving him a 20-hour jump on authorities, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department Jan Caldwell spokeswoman said.
Anderson spoke lovingly as she remembered her mother and brother, saying they both were strong and that her mother knew how to handle herself. She showed off newly painted nails, pink in honor of her mother and blue for her brother with their names on her toes.
Of her brother, she said, “He had a really big heart,” before she choked up and wiped away tears.
Gore has called Hannah “a victim in every sense of the word.”