An FBI tactical team shot and killed an alleged kidnapper and rescued missing 16-year-old Hannah Anderson from the Idaho wilderness. She was airlifted by a helicopter to a hospital as investigative crews moved in.
In the middle of it all, apparently, was a gray house cat.
It was one of the oddest details to emerge in the recovery of Hannah, who was kidnapped in San Diego County and taken across several states before ending up in a remote area of the Idaho wilderness six days later.
A chance encounter with four horseback riders on a wilderness trail ultimately led authorities to them and to the killing of James Lee DiMaggio.
Numerous details emerged from the horseback riders — including clues that led authorities to DiMaggio's whereabouts — but it was the story of a gray cat that captured the attention of some readers.
In a news conference the day after an FBI agent shot and killed DiMaggio, horseback riders described spotting DiMaggio and Hannah.
Retired Sheriff Mark John, 71, said Hannah was soaking her feet in Morehead Lake.
DiMaggio, he said, "was off on the side of the trail, petting a gray cat."
"What?" a reporter asked.
"Petting a gray cat," John replied.
He went on to recall telling DiMaggio that having the domestic cat could attract trouble in the rugged wilderness.
"Them cats are only good for the wolf — to draw a wolf in or to bring in a mountain lion or something," John said.
DiMaggio didn't respond, he added.
"He just kind of grinned — didn't say much more," John recalled. "Had a little smirk on his face."
The juxtaposition of a gray house cat against the backdrop of an unforgiving wilderness overrun by a multi-agency search and a girl who authorities said was taken against her will across multiple state lines piqued the interest of more than just reporters.
Emails started flowing into the mailboxes of Times reporters covering the story, many of them concerned about the cat’s fate.
“What happened to the kitty? I hope Miss Anderson was able to take it home…” one read.
Others took to social media, tweeting at the media to follow up on what they considered a significant gap in the storyline.
"What was #HannahAnderson kidnapper thinking? Drive 1500 miles during active Amber Alert with hostage and cat?" wrote @PollyDad.
Their questions were answered Monday when officials revealed that the cat had not been left behind as wolf bait in the Idaho wilderness north of Cascade.
As it turns out, when federal agents spotted DiMaggio’s campsite from the air Saturday, they also saw the cat, FBI Special Agent Jason Pack told the San Diego U-T.
The day after the confrontation, in which DiMaggio fired off at least one round before being shot and killed by an FBI agent, the cat was found by an FBI SWAT team securing the crime scene, the U-T reported.
The cat was returned to Hannah later that day. Safe and sound.
Mather reported from Idaho, Wells from Los Angeles.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times