LAKESIDE, Calif. >> A man suspected of abducting a 16-year-old girl told her he had a crush on her and would date her if they were the same age, a friend of the girl said today as police searched for the man who is also wanted in the death of the girl’s mother and possibly her 8-year-old brother.
Marissa Chavez, 15, said James Lee DiMaggio explained that he didn’t want the girls to think he was weird in an effort to defend himself after noticing they exchanged glances. She said he spoke while driving them home from a high school gymnastics meet a couple months ago.
Hannah Anderson asked Chavez to join her from then on whenever DiMaggio, 40, drove her to meets.
"She was a little creeped out by it. She didn’t want to be alone with him," Chavez said.
DiMaggio was like an uncle to Hannah and 8-year-old Ethan. He was very close with their parents for years.
On Sunday night, authorities found the body of 42-year-old Christina Anderson when they extinguished flames at DiMaggio’s rural home. A child’s body was found as they sifted through rubble in Boulevard, a tiny town 65 miles east of San Diego on the U.S.-Mexico border.
The child’s body has not been identified but it may be Ethan, sheriff’s Lt. Glenn Giannantonio said late Tuesday.
Christina Anderson’s father, Christopher Saincome, said Wednesday that his daughter visited DiMaggio’s home last weekend to say goodbye before he moved to Texas. DiMaggio, who works as a telecommunications technician at The Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, was a regular presence at the Anderson family apartment in Lakeside, a suburb of 54,000 people.
"He must have had this planned," Saincome said.
Saincome said nothing seemed amiss when he called his daughter at work Friday to let her know she didn’t call on his birthday. Anderson, a medical assistant, said she would call back that night but never did.
Investigators say DiMaggio may be headed to Texas or Canada with one child or both. They had no evidence that the relationship between DiMaggio and the missing girl was more than friendly.
"We’re not looking into that directly at this point," Giannantonio said.
Chavez, who spoke at a candlelight vigil for Hannah on Tuesday night, said DiMaggio argued with her friend when he took her to Hollywood in late June or early July for her birthday. DiMaggio was upset that Hannah was "paying more attention to posting pictures (on her phone) than talking to him."
"He got upset and ended the trip early," Chavez said.
Brett Anderson, who flew from Tennessee to San Diego on Tuesday, pleaded with DiMaggio to release his daughter, saying, "You’ve taken everything else."
"Jim, I can’t fathom what you were thinking. The damage is done," he said outside San Diego County Sheriff’s Department headquarters after being interviewed by investigators Tuesday.
DiMaggio is wanted on suspicion of murder and arson in a search that began in Southern California and spread to Mexico and neighboring states.
Brett Anderson joined hundreds of family friends and neighbors at the vigil in the parking lot of El Capitan High School in Lakeside, where Hannah was about to start her junior year. Pink paper cups stuffed between holes in the fence read, "Pray Hannah," and dozens of white, powder blue and pink balloons lifted into the air.
Investigators described Brett Anderson as an ex-husband, but Saincome said the couple decided to live apart about two months ago because Brett found a job in Tennessee. Saincome said the separation was not the result of any marital problems.
Associated Press news researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed to this report.