Skip to comments.Missing [San diego] girl's neighbor went to desert, beach and back
Posted on 02/09/2002 6:53:27 AM PST by crypt2k
Suspect's travels included Imperial Valley, Silver Strand
Police continued yesterday to investigate the alibi of David Westerfield and tried to make sense of the kidnapping suspect's wanderings from desert to beach to desert again after the disappearance of his 7-year-old neighbor Danielle van Dam.
Westerfield, an avid camper who has come under intense police scrutiny, drove his motor home to Silver Strand State Beach near Coronado on the afternoon of Feb. 2, apparently after leaving the dunes in the Imperial Valley desert, where the vehicle had been stuck in the sand, officials said yesterday.
Silver Strand park rangers said Westerfield mistakenly paid for four nights instead of the two he intended to stay. He left after a ranger knocked on his door and gave him a refund.
Danielle has been missing from her Sabre Springs home for eight days. She was last seen when her father put her to bed about 10:30 p.m. Feb. 1. Westerfield, who has not been arrested and who friends say is incapable of doing harm, told police he left in his motor home the next morning for the desert and the beach.
Silver Strand rangers said Westerfield arrived at the $12-a-night oceanfront campground Feb. 2. A ranger knocked on his motor-home door to refund the overpayment between 3 and 3:30 p.m., and Westerfield drove off about 20 minutes later.
Westerfield appeared to be alone in the motor home, though rangers did not go inside the vehicle and did not see or hear a child. He did not seem nervous, said Chief Ranger John Quirk.
"There was nothing suspicious about it," Quirk said. "He sounded grateful they'd given him the money back."
Westerfield told police he decided to leave after paying for two nights because "he didn't know anybody down there. He decided to go to the desert where his friends were," an investigator said.
It is not clear to what desert he returned.
Police said they find it curious that earlier that same day, Westerfield, a frequent desert camper, became stuck in the sand in an area most campers know to avoid. Some campers told police they watched as Westerfield continued down a sandy stretch and remarked that he was sure to get stuck.
"He knows the desert real well. What's he doing out there?" an investigator said.
Investigators have been in the Imperial Valley for the past several days. They returned yesterday by helicopter because shifting dunes from a sandstorm Sunday could have covered up clues, and detectives wanted to take an aerial look in a search for possible grave sites or other evidence, one detective said.
"The wind can blow for 15 minutes and you won't see a thing," said Dan Conklin, a towing service owner who pulled Westerfield's motor home from the dunes south of Glamis on Feb. 2.
Yesterday morning, Conklin led members of the news media south from Glamis down a dirt road a mile and a half south of state Route 78, where he said Westerfield's motor home was stuck. There, he hiked up a dune and pointed east to a half-square-mile plot where investigators concentrated their search Thursday.
Conklin said that before noon Feb. 2, Westerfield hiked to an encampment of off-road enthusiasts and told a man he was stuck. That man went to Conklin's business and directed him to Westerfield.
Westerfield was alone and without an all-terrain vehicle or dune buggy when Conklin found him trying to dig out his motor home, which had sunk into the sand up to its frame.
Conklin said he was immediately suspicious, and that he saw a long line of footprints that stretched from the motor home off into the distance. He said Westerfield told him he had been stuck since morning.
Police first showed an interest in Westerfield on Monday when he returned from his weekend trip. Detectives initially said they talked to him because he was the only person in the neighborhood they had not contacted over the weekend.
His house was one of the first of more than 200 Sabre Springs homes that officers searched with the aid of police dogs. Police later returned with a search warrant.
During that Tuesday search, investigators seized Westerfield's motor home and a sport-utility vehicle. They took 13 containers of property from his house and had him retrace his weekend in the desert.
At one point, police dispatched a plumber to the Westerfield house to assist in their search. It was not known what task the plumber performed.
Police are still awaiting results of DNA tests. Undercover detectives also continue to track Westerfield's every move.
As they did Thursday, undercover detectives yesterday followed Westerfield as he drove from his home to the offices of his attorney, Steven Feldman, in San Diego's Golden Hill neighborhood.
Meanwhile, Danielle's parents, Brenda and Damon van Dam, continued to make appearances on several television news broadcasts, where they again pleaded for their daughter's safe return.
The Laura Recovery Center for Missing Children, a Texas group that is joining the effort to find Danielle, launched its first searches yesterday.
From a command post at the Doubletree Golf Resort in Rancho Peñasquitos, the organization sent several groups looking for the girl, said Bob Walcutt, the center's executive director. Searches were conducted by air over the Anza-Borrego Desert, on the ground in east Poway and in an area southeast of Beeler Canyon Road and Pomerado Road, and by car along Scripps Poway Parkway, Walcutt said.
Nearly 150 people turned out last night at Danielle's school, Creekside Elementary, to coordinate efforts for a more extensive volunteer search effort today.
By Bruce Lieberman and Preston Turegano
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITERS
February 9, 2002
All week, media across the nation buzzed about the abduction of a child from her bedroom in northern San Diego.
Danielle van Dam is still missing, but by yesterday the public's attention was shifting to the girl's parents, as accusations and talk-radio diatribes threatened to drown out news of the investigation.
The founder of a group that posted a $10,000 reward for Danielle's safe return suggested the police investigate her family. Radio talk-show conversations questioned the lifestyle of Brenda and Damon van Dam; television and newspaper reporters began asking them about it.
The Internet has been teeming with messages about Danielle and her parents. While some come to the van Dams' defense, the bulk are angry with the parents, and many of the messages are mean-spirited. They address everything from rumors of the parents' lifestyle to their statements that they didn't check on their children after a door was found open at night.
The van Dams, who discovered their 7-year-old daughter missing from her bed a week ago today, became household names almost overnight as they made the rounds of national television shows, pleading for Danielle's return.
They have used the reach of the Internet to ask for help in finding her. A Web site set up by neighbors provides a downloadable poster of the child and asks viewers to distribute it as widely as possible.
The shift in the response to the van Dams from sympathetic to nasty was swift as the couple tried in vain to keep the focus on the search for their daughter.
A family spokeswoman said the van Dams would not comment yesterday about the flurry of allegations.
One of the most outspoken critics was Douglas Pierce, who only days before posted a $10,000 reward for Danielle's return. Pierce, who describes his group, the Millennium Children's Fund, as a nonprofit advocacy group for abused children, said he was disturbed by what he saw during his eight hours in the van Dam home Wednesday.
He felt the parents lacked emotion, and said he was put off by what he described as their repeated rehearsals before facing the media.
The van Dams and several advisers plan what the parents say and how they look on television and in newspapers, Pierce said. "They were talking about their makeup and how they look in the camera," he added.
Pierce said the van Dams' two sons, 5 and 10, should be taken from the home while police search for Danielle.
Although he found no evidence to believe the van Dams are tied directly to their daughter's disappearance, Pierce said he decided to ask for outside protection for the children after observing the family, its public-relations team and a journal entry by Danielle that he said suggested conflict with her father.
Pierce said he was shocked when Brenda van Dam showed him Danielle's journal. " 'Daddy, please forgive me,' " Pierce said one entry read. " 'Daddy please love me. Danielle.' "
"After my personal observation, I'm asking for a wake-up call from the San Diego Police Department to investigate the family," Pierce said.
Pierce's comments enraged the van Dams.
"Douglas Pierce is some kind of freak who came into our house," Damon van Dam told a Los Angeles radio station Thursday. He called Pierce "evil."
"He is trying to start trouble for us," Brenda van Dam said. "We did not invite him into our house."
A few days ago, the van Dams began to get questions on television about their private life. Delicate questions became pointed yesterday when San Diego radio talk-show host Rick Roberts criticized the van Dams on the air for "not being honest" about "what really occurred" the night their daughter disappeared.
Roberts told his listeners that a "reliable" source "high in law enforcement" said the van Dams have engaged in "lots of wife-swapping." Saying he believes the source, Roberts reported activity by the van Dams on the night of Feb. 1 dramatically different from their description to the news media.
Roberts repeated his source's allegations for four hours, interrupted mainly by callers angry at the van Dams.
During a break in his 3-to-7 p.m. show on KFMB-AM 760 titled "The Court of Public Opinion," Roberts told The San Diego Union-Tribune he decided to go public with what his source told him because the van Dams' two young sons remain at home and "may be exposed to the couple's lifestyle."
When asked if he thought his comments were slanderous or unethical, Roberts said: "No, not at all. This is not a court of law. It's a court of public opinion. If anyone thinks they're slanderous, they can subpoena me."
Roberts said he told his program director he intended to disclose the source's information and that the director did not object.
Ed Trimble, president and chief operating officer of KFMB-TV and radio, could not be reached for comment after the show.
Roberts' comments prompted a flurry of new messages on the Internet.
A woman who runs a Danielle van Dam message board from North Carolina said, "It is the kind of situation that will show every wart they have and it will horrify us to think how little privacy anyone really has."
In the meantime, Pierce continued to post the reward offer on the Web.
His Millennium Children's Fund is listed with the state of California as an active corporation first registered Feb. 26, 2000. In April 2001, Pierce filed a 990-EZ form with the Internal Revenue Service, listing the fund as a "children's public benefit charity."
Accomplishments listed on the form included creating Web sites for adults and for children, and "implementing" public-service announcements. Pierce reported no income and no expenses for the 2000 tax year on the form.
Since Morning of 2/2/2002 Sabre Springs Area, San Diego
Danielle - 7 Years Old
4 ft. Tall, 58 Lbs., Blue Eyes, Dirty Blond Hair
Or you can remain anonymous by calling
Richard Jewell did it.
By Kristen Green
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
February 8, 2002
Brenda and Damon van Dam believe their 7-year-old daughter, Danielle, was abducted from their Sabre Springs home while they were sleeping, the couple said in an interview yesterday.
"I think someone came into our home and took her out of her bed," Brenda van Dam said.
Danielle is a sound sleeper, they said, and probably would not wake up if someone lifted her out of her canopy bed and carried her outside.
"She could have thought it was Damon carrying her," Brenda van Dam said.
The couple, looking composed but tired during an interview in their living room, said their dog, a sleek gray Weimaraner, would not make much noise if someone entered the house because it cannot bark.
Though Danielle sometimes sleepwalked, the van Dams do not think it is possible she wandered out of the house Friday night or Saturday morning. She never went outside when she sleepwalked. When she did, her mother usually would find her walking in circles in the upstairs hallway.
"It was far too cold for her to walk out," Damon van Dam said.
Instead, the van Dams think Danielle's kidnapper climbed the steps to her second-floor bedroom decorated in pink and purple after everyone was asleep.
Danielle's bedroom is next to her brothers' bedroom in the loft-style house, now filled with flowers and gifts, friends answering the door and grandparents sleeping in spare bedrooms. The door to Danielle's room blocked to secure the crime scene is decorated with hearts and flowers.
San Diego police said that before the van Dams went to bed early Saturday they noticed red lights blinking on a burglar alarm panel and found a sliding glass door and a garage door open.
Yesterday they said the timing has been misreported by the media, but would not say when they actually found the doors open.
Brenda van Dam, who went to a Poway restaurant and bar with friends Friday night, said she did not think to check on her children before she went to sleep that night.
"They had been put to bed by Daddy," she said. "There was no reason to check on them."
The couple said yesterday they barely know David Westerfield, 49, a neighbor who has become the primary focus of the police investigation. Brenda van Dam said she did not know Westerfield's name until she and Danielle knocked on his door last week to sell him Girl Scout cookies.
"He's never been invited into our home," she said.
On Friday night, Brenda van Dam left home about 8:15 or 8:30 to go out with two single girlfriends as a send-off for one of the women, who was moving out of town, she said. Damon van Dam stayed home, playing video games with his sons while Danielle read.
Brenda van Dam said she ran into Westerfield at Dad's, the Poway restaurant and bar, and that he asked her to introduce him to one of her friends. She agreed, but they did not talk long.
She said she danced and played pool during the evening at Dad's, but did not dance with Westerfield, as he told The San Diego Union-Tribune.
When Brenda van Dam and her friends left the bar, Westerfield was gone, she said. She and her two girlfriends ran into two other friends that night, and they all headed to the van Dams' home.
Damon van Dam said he woke up when they got home and talked with the four friends until they left about 15 minutes later. Then the couple went to bed.
The next morning, Brenda van Dam discovered Danielle was not in her bed when she went to wake her about 9 a.m.
The couple reported Danielle missing to police that morning, six days ago.
Damon van Dam, 36, an engineer for Qualcomm, and Brenda, 39, a stay-at-home mom who recently started selling books to school libraries, mostly have stayed inside their home since then.
The couple's young sons, Dylan and Derrick, 5 and 9, respectively, have slept with them every night since Danielle disappeared. The boys returned to classes Wednesday at Creekside Elementary School, where Danielle is a second-grader.
On top of dealing with a missing child, the van Dams are the subject of rumors that they are involved in a swinging club, where couples typically engage in sex with other couples.
"This is in no way related to the investigation," Brenda van Dam said. "Nothing would get in between me checking on my children. It's a rumor. I don't know why people would want to be hurtful."
The van Dams said they still are praying that their daughter will come home, that her kidnapper will see the media coverage and drop her off somewhere, that she is still alive.
"I can't give up that hope, because if I do, what's left?" Brenda van Dam said.
The last time I had this feeling was when Susan Smith did her little acting job on TV, after she had drowned her boys. My wife and I BOTH said "She's lying" at the same time! (My wife is a former LEO).
And others who have done the same kind of spooky lying: Diane Downs who shot her four children in the back of her car (she's in jail for the rest of her life) and the parents of baby Jessica whose body has never been found. The parents were taped talking about the murder but a case has never been built against them ... sad. But, yes, the TV performances are most telling.
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