On August 3, 2013, 16-year-old Hannah Anderson was abducted while leaving cheerleading camp in a San Diego suburb. Her abductor was James DiMaggio, a close family friend who Hannah reportedly called “Uncle Jim.”
DiMaggio had befriended Hannah’s mom and been a source of emotional support following her separation from Hannah’s father, who had relocated to Tennessee for a new job a few months before the murders.
Hannah thought she was just getting a ride home — but DiMaggio had other plans. Instead, he kidnapped the teen and headed for Idaho.
Later that day, police were horrified to find the dead bodies of her mother Christina Anderson, 42, brother Ethan, 8, and the family dog at DiMaggio’s burned-out home. Investigators discovered that DiMaggio had used a timer to set his house on fire when he and Hannah were hundreds of miles away.
An AMBER alert was issued, and investigators launched a multi-state manhunt for Hannah. The search centered on two critical clues: the discovery of DiMaggio’s blue Nissan Versa outside the city of Cascade, Idaho, and a sighting of the pair by horseback riders.
One of the men who saw the pair recalled noticing multiple “red flags” during their brief interaction, including their brand-new camping equipment and the pajama-like bottoms Hannah was wearing.
Hannah and her kidnapper were in in The Frank Church–River of No Return wilderness area, which is located on 2.5 million acres of heavily forested mountains, deep ravines, and fast-moving rivers. After battling the tough terrain, authorities spotted DiMaggio and Hannah on August 10 at a campsite near Morehead Lake. Hostage rescue teams had to hike more than two hours to get to the scene. Once they closed in on the teen and her captor, an FBI tactical agent fatally shot DiMaggio — and Hannah was rescued.
Authorities later searched DiMaggio’s home and garage and found incriminating items including a handwritten note, handcuff box, camping equipment, and a DNA swab kit.
Though detectives determined that DiMaggio acted alone, some members of the public have raised questions about the extent of his relationship with the teenager prior to the kidnapping after letters and texts from Hannah to DiMaggio were found.
Shortly after her ordeal, Hannah fielded anonymous questions on the website ask.fm, where she shared details about her abduction. She revealed in the postings that she did not want to go with him, did not escape after she was abducted out of fear he would kill her — and is “absolutely” glad he is dead.
She stated emphatically that her letters to him were sent a year earlier, when she was having problems with her mother, and had nothing to do with her ordeal. Hannah also told NBC News that her relationship with DiMaggio, who she thought of as “more like a second dad and a best friend,” took a bizarre turn before the kidnapping.
“He told me, ‘Don’t think of me as creepy uncle Jim, but if you were older I’d date you,’” Hannah told Savannah Guthrie. “And it just really didn’t seem right. It was just really uncomfortable. I got, like, a weird vibe off of it.”
But Hannah said she never told her mother about the unsettling exchange with DiMaggio due to the fact that he had been a supportive friend to her mom since her separation. She also clarified that the text messages she sent to DiMaggio before the abduction were merely directions to her cheerleading camp, since he was meant to be picking her up.
Hannah was able to pick of the pieces of her life and went on to make plans for college and has reportedly been in a relationship with a football player at her high school.
DiMaggio’s sister Lora DiMaggio Robinson filed a $20 million lawsuit against the FBI, in which she alleged that SWAT officers did not need to kill DiMaggio when they found him in the wilderness. In April 2017, a judge ruled that the lawsuit could move forward.
In 2015, Hannah weighed in on the Lifetime movie that was made based on her case on social media.
“I never have [sic] them any form of permission to make this movie or even information to put in this movie,” she wrote on a (now-deleted) Instagram post. “Even the preview alone has false facts and untrue events.”
She asked that “people who support me not to watch this lie of a movie” and said, “When the time comes I will tell my story, but again if anyone is gonna tell my story it should be me.”
Hannah herself is still not without criticism and suspicion, however. There is a social-media campaign from those who believe she’s not telling the whole truth and that she may herself have had a hand in what happened. They go so far as to suggest that she was not kidnapped and to point out when they believe she’s told lies about the harrowing tale. In fact, she disabled her ask.fm account due to the amount of people suggesting she was a participant in the abduction and murders of her mother and brother.
Main photo: Hannah Anderson [Today Show / YouTube (screenshot)]