Amber Alert: Neighbors stunned by alleged killing, kidnapping
BOULEVARD, Calif. -- It’s what everyone always says, Jim DiMaggio’s neighbors agreed: He seemed like a nice guy.
James Lee DiMaggio moved into the two-road neighborhood in Boulevard -- a dusty, quiet stretch of San Diego County about five miles north of the Mexican border -- a few years ago, they said. Few knew much about him, but said he waved when he picked up his mail or drove down the street.
He chatted with one neighbor across their shared chain-link fence, and told another he was pleased with the gas mileage on his new blue Nissan. When DiMaggio’s friend, Christina Anderson, brought her children to visit, he offered his home and yard for the other neighborhood children to play.
“There are some people, when something like this happens, that say, ‘This doesn’t surprise me,’” said Tom Calgaro, who lives next to DiMaggio. “This is not one of those. This is one of those typical things where neighbors are interviewed after something like this and they say, ‘He was a nice guy.’”
Now the residents of Ross Avenue are struggling to understand how their quiet, soft-spoken neighbor is the focus of a manhunt that’s grabbed national attention.
Authorities allege that DiMaggio killed Anderson, whose body was found at his burning home Sunday night, then kidnapped her 16-year-old daughter, Hannah. Anderson’s 8-year-old son, Ethan, is also missing, through a boy’s body was also found at DiMaggio’s home.
An autopsy on the child’s remains was performed Tuesday, but officials said the identity wouldn’t be announced until Friday at the earliest.
A statewide Amber Alert was issued, and broadened Wednesday to include Oregon and Washington after a car matching the description of DiMaggio’s blue Nissan Versa was spotted in Northern California.
Authorities said he may be heading to Canada.
In Boulevard, two San Diego County Sheriff’s Department cars remained parked in front of DiMaggio’s home Wednesday afternoon. Neighbors said the two-story building, hidden by brush and trees and blocked by police tape, had been reduced to ashes.
Mary Momberg said her 10-year-old son -- who often played with Ethan at DiMaggio’s house -- first spotted the fire across the road.
“He looked out the window and said, ‘Jim’s house is on fire,’” she recalled.
Momberg said she called 911. As other residents spotted the tree-high flames, they started warning each other.
Calgaro said he grabbed a fire hose he keeps on his property and, along with another neighbor and a garden hose, began dousing the pine trees near his home, hoping to keep the flames away. The pop-pop-pop of ammunition exploding in the belly of the fire filled the air, he said.
About an hour into the fire fight, someone shouted, Calgaro said.
“I heard someone yell, ‘We’ve got a homicide on our hands,’” he said.
It was Christina Anderson’s body in a stand-alone garage, authorities said. The boy’s body was found later in what was left of the house.
A dog was also found dead in the garage.
“We didn’t know there was anybody in there at all,” said Sheila Haskett, 85, who watched the fire from her property.
Momberg’s voice broke as she described her family’s reaction to the news. Her daughter, 18, hung out with Hannah Anderson when she visited DiMaggio’s house. But it’s Momberg’s son, she said, who’s “more in disbelief.”
“He said, ‘It couldn’t be Jim. Jim couldn’t do something like that,’” she said.
Momberg said she initially thought it was strange that DiMaggio, a single man, built a play set on his property after moving in. But when the Anderson kids -- who called DiMaggio “Uncle Jim” -- visited, she said, it made sense.
Calgaro said his 13-year-old grandson would play video games with Ethan when he came to visit. The teenager described Ethan as a “very nice boy.”
His grandson was also “having a hard time” with what had happened, Calgaro added.
“He was just trying to understand why people would do something like this, especially to a little boy,” Calgaro said. “We adults don’t understand them.”
The residents of Ross Avenue said they didn’t understand, nor did they notice anything out of the ordinary that could have clued them in to what happened Sunday night.
“You sure never expect it,” said a man who declined to give his name. “No one really knows their neighbor.”
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