Hannah Anderson defended her use of social media in the days following her kidnapping and rescue, saying in her first interview after her rescue that sending and receiving the online postings "just helps me grieve."
The San Diego County 16-year-old's first comments about her ordeal came in an interview with NBC that aired in two parts Thursday morning on the "Today" show. In the second segment, she addressed those who have criticized her recent online activity.
"I didn't know people could be so cruel," she said.
She said social media outlets such as Facebook and Instagram -- where she has recently posted photos and comments -- helped her connect with friends and cope with what happened.
"It just helps me grieve, like, post pictures to show how I'm feeling," she said. "I'm a teenager. I'm gonna go on it."
She said the online messages she has received were "a little overwhelming" but that "it also felt good to know that people prayed for me."
The multi-state search for Hannah began Aug. 4 after her mother and brother were found dead at family friend James DiMaggio's burning property in eastern San Diego County. Authorities allege that DiMaggio killed Christina and Ethan Anderson before kidnapping Hannah and taking her to a remote stretch of Idaho wilderness.
After a group of horseback riders reported seeing the two near Morehead Lake, roughly 75 miles north of Boise, FBI agents raided the camp on Aug. 10. Hannah was rescued safely; DiMaggio was shot and killed.
Though officials have stressed that Hannah was a "victim in every sense of the word," she has drawn scrutiny and criticism in the days following her rescue. When asked about some of the comments posted about her online, the teenager said, "They don't really know the story, so they kind of have their own opinion on what they hear."
"You are who you are, and you shouldn't let people change that," she said later. "You have your own opinion on yourself and other peoples' opinion shouldn't matter."
She also spoke about her communications with DiMaggio, discussing phone calls and letters detailed in search warrants released last week. The documents indicated the two called each other about 13 times before their phones were shut off, and revealed that investigators found letters from Hannah at DiMaggio's home -- both of which raised questions about their relationship.
Hannah said the calls were "just texts" to let DiMaggio know where to pick her up from cheer practice.
“The phone calls weren’t phone calls,” she said. “He didn’t know the address or where I was.”
The letters -- the contents of which authorities have not detailed -- were from a year ago, Hannah said, when she and her mother weren't getting along.
"They weren't anything bad," she said. "They were just to help me through tough times."
In the segments that aired Thursday, Hannah did not comment on the events leading to her abduction, the days she was missing or her rescue. Another excerpt was set to air Thursday night on "NBC Nightly News.
The teenager wiped away tears as she remembered her 8-year-old brother Ethan, saying he "had a really big heart." Her mother, she said, was "strong-hearted and very tough" and "knew how to handle things."
Hannah said she got her nails done in honor of her mother and brother, with pink and blue on her fingers and their names written across her toes. Hannah said her father's trip to an Idaho hospital where she was initially taken "was helpful and it got us closer."
She thanked those involved in her rescue -- authorities, her father and those behind the Amber Alert system -- and said if it weren't for the horseback riders who spotted her in the Idaho back country and alerted police, "I probably wouldn't be here right now."
Later, Hannah said she first thought of herself as a victim, but now "I consider myself a survivor instead."
"My mom raised me to be strong," she said.
She also spoke of the upcoming school year, saying she hoped to make the varsity gymnastics team. She acknowledged school would likely "be a little overwhelming with everyone and their opinions," but said her friends "have my back."
"This was a hard time and there's going to be harder times in life," she said. "But if I can get through this, I'm sure I can get through a lot more."
Twitter: @Sam_SchaeferCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times