SAN DIEGO — A California teen whose mother and brother were killed by a family friend said on national television Thursday that she once confided with the man about troubles with her mother and explained text messages exchanged on the day of the attack.
Police say James Lee DiMaggio abducted Hannah Anderson and fled to the Idaho wilderness before he was killed by authorities.
In an interview on the NBC “Today” show, Hannah didn’t say how her family died, describe her interactions with DiMaggio during a massive manhunt, or offer details to explain why DiMaggio might have unleashed such violence.
In her first news interview since her dramatic rescue Aug. 10, Hannah said she wrote to DiMaggio about a year ago as he guided her through a rough patch with her mother.
“Me and him would talk about how to deal with it, and I’d tell him how I felt about it, and he’d help me through it. They weren’t anything bad. They were just to help me through tough times,” she said.
Hannah said she exchanged text messages on Aug. 3 with DiMaggio before she disappeared about where he should pick her up from cheerleading practice. Her statements corrected a search warrant that said the pair exchanged about 13 phone calls.
“The phone calls weren’t phone calls,” she said. “They were texts because he was picking me up from cheer camp and he didn’t know the address or what, like, where I was, so I had to tell him.”
Jan Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, didn’t immediately respond to questions about the content of the letters and text messages. Investigators previously declined to discuss them.
Hannah’s comments to NBC underscore the close relationship she had with DiMaggio, 40, who was like an uncle to her and her brother and her father’s best friend.
Hannah’s disappearance triggered a search for DiMaggio that spanned much of the western United States and parts of Canada and Mexico.
Christina Anderson, 44, was found dead near a crowbar and what appeared to be a pool of blood in the garage of DiMaggio’s home in Boulevard, a tiny town about 65 miles east of San Diego. The remains of Ethan Anderson, 8, were discovered in the rubble.
Hannah went online barely two days after she was rescued and answered hundreds of questions on social media, including some that described harrowing details of her ordeal. She said she was surprised by some cruel responses she got.
But she had a straightforward answer for why she talked online: “It just helps me grieve ... I’m going to go on it. I’m a teenager.”
She was at turns defiant and shaken in the NBC interview, declaring that she’s a survivor and plans to try to 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.”
Hannah said the ordeal drew her closer to her father, who flew to San Diego from his Tennessee home after the search was launched. During the interview, 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. Her mother was “strong-hearted and very tough.”
“She knew how to handle things,” Hannah said.
San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore has called Hannah “a victim in every sense of the word.” He 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.
DiMaggio set fire to his home using a timer, giving him a 20-hour jump on authorities, authorities say.
Horseback riders who spotted the pair in the Idaho wilderness alerted authorities, providing the key break to her rescue. Hannah told NBC that she probably wouldn’t be home if it weren’t for them and also thanked investigators and members of the public who assisted in the search for her.