Horseback riders detail encounter with DiMaggio and girl

BOISE, Idaho — Hardly anything seemed ordinary about the two hikers that horseback riders encountered in the Idaho backcountry last week.

The man was middle-aged, and the girl was a teenager. On a wilderness trail, she wore what looked like pajama bottoms. He had brand-new camping gear — and a cat. "Like a square peg going into a round hole," said Mark John, one of the riders.


What John and his companions didn’t realize at the time was that their chance meeting on the trail would provide the crucial tip that led law enforcement to the campsite of missing 16-year-old Hannah Anderson of California and her suspected abductor, James DiMaggio, 40.

DiMaggio, who allegedly kidnapped Anderson after killing her mother and 8-year-old brother at DiMaggio's home east of San Diego, was shot and killed by an FBI agent Saturday during a dramatic rescue operation in the central Idaho wilderness. The girl was expected to be reunited with her father Sunday following a weeklong manhunt that led authorities across several western states, asking for the public’s help by sending missing-children Amber Alert text messages.

Search teams tracked DiMaggio and the teenager to a campsite near Morehead Lake, about 75 miles north of Boise, after getting a tip late last week from Mark and Christa John of Sweet, Idaho, who came across the pair while on a fishing and camping trip with another couple.

John's friends Mike and Mary Young first saw the pair during a Wednesday morning horseback ride when they came up behind DiMaggio and Anderson while they were hiking on a trail.

Anderson said little and "kind of had a scared look on her face when I first came up the trail," Mike Young recalled at a news conference Sunday in Boise. At the time, he attributed it to her being taken off-guard by the horses.

Several hours later, around 5 p.m., the Youngs and Johns — Mark and his wife — again encountered DiMaggio and Anderson at Morehead Lake, below where they had set up their tent high on a ridge. DiMaggio was off to the side of the trail, petting a gray cat. John jokingly asked Anderson why she was soaking her feet in a lake filled with fish, but she didn't respond. As John and his companions started to ride away, he heard Anderson say, "Looks like we're all in trouble now."

"I had no idea what she meant," John said. "It was loud enough to hear but it was mostly to herself."

But it was clear something was amiss.

"They just didn't fit," said John, a retired sheriff. "He might have been an outdoorsman in California, but he was not an outdoorsman in Idaho. ... Red flags kind of went up."

John's wife was concerned enough about the girl that she wanted to talk to Anderson. Her husband advised her to leave the two alone.

The Johns pieced things together the next day, when they returned home and saw a news alert about the missing girl on television. The suspected it was the girl they had seen on the trail.

John then talked to the Youngs to confirm his suspicisons before calling a friend in the Idaho State Police.

After receiving the tip, Idaho authorities found DiMaggio's car in a forested area near a trailhead, covered up with fallen logs and brush with its license plates removed. They confirmed it was the right car by checking its vehicle identification number.

By Saturday afternoon, more than 150 local and federal law enforcement officers were combing the steep and remote terrain near Cascade, Idaho, by aircraft and horseback.