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Neighbor Held in Girl’s Disappearance

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A neighbor of a girl who has been missing for three weeks was arrested Friday after a DNA analysis concluded that the blood found on the man’s clothing and in his motor home was that of the 7-year-old, police said.

As he left his lawyer’s office Friday morning, David Westerfield, 49, was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping Danielle van Dam, who has been missing from her Sabre Springs home since Feb. 1.

She was last seen by her father when he put her to bed about 10:30 p.m. Her parents, Damon and Brenda van Dam, discovered she was gone the next morning.

At a news conference, Police Chief David Bejarano said there is no new information on the girl’s whereabouts and police have no motive for the alleged kidnapping.

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DNA analysis of the blood lifted from Westerfield’s clothing and motor home is Danielle’s and links him to the missing girl, he said.

“I can’t stress enough how strong this link is,” Bejarano said. “We believe, without a question, that the DNA evidence links Westerfield to the disappearance of Danielle.”

Westerfield, an engineer, lives two doors from the van Dams in the neighborhood that is about 20 miles north of downtown San Diego. The divorced father of two lives alone.

He has no criminal record, but Bejarano said detectives found child pornography during a search of his home, for which he may face additional charges.

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Westerfield’s attorney, Steve Feldman, could not be reached.

Bejarano said he was holding out hope for Danielle’s safe return, but he said that did not appear likely.

Police said Westerfield drove his motor home to a desert area east of San Diego on the night that Danielle was last seen by her family. Later, he drove to a beach park near Coronado, police said. Both areas have been searched by police and volunteers.

A source familiar with the investigation said Westerfield attracted police attention because of the excessive cleaning he gave his recreational vehicle upon returning from the desert.

He said Westerfield steam-cleaned the RV, using so much bleach that detectives found the chlorine fumes overpowering when they searched it Monday, two days after the girl was reported missing.

In addition, Westerfield took the cushions to be dry-cleaned, he said.

Westerfield also gave conflicting accounts of his whereabouts at the time that Danielle could have been abducted, he said.

At a news conference outside their home Friday morning, the van Dams said they were relieved to learn of Westerfield’s arrest and were anxious to find their daughter.

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“We are very happy that the police have made an arrest,” Brenda van Dam said. “But the fact still remains we don’t have our daughter back.”

Damon van Dam said supporters are organizing another search this weekend in the Imperial County desert and in the hills around the van Dam home. The couple also have two sons.

Investigators questioned Westerfield two days after the girl’s disappearance and was under 24-hour surveillance.

He allowed police to search his home without a warrant at least twice, and detectives have questioned him several times.

Investigators have returned to the Westerfield and van Dam homes numerous times.

Police are analyzing fingerprints taken from Danielle’s bedroom but have not matched them to Westerfield.

During the week, investigators returned to the van Dam home and took away two doors as evidence.

Some neighbors described Westerfield as someone they waved to but knew little about.

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“He was just one of those neighbors you waved to. I’ve lived here three years and don’t know anything about him,” said Joe McBrien.

Another neighbor, who wanted to be identified only as Rahul and lives one house over from Westerfield, said his neighbor was “a marvelous landscaper.”

“He never gave me a reason to suspect he was a bad fellow,” the neighbor said.

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Times special correspondent Paul Levikow contributed to this report.


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