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Former Sheriff Had Gut Feeling About Man, Teen

BOISE, Idaho -- Four Sweet residents whose tip to police led to Saturday's dramatic rescue of 16-year-old Hannah Anderson and the FBI shooting death of kidnapper James DiMaggio said they found the pair they came across ill-prepared to camp in the rugged Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.

First, the tent and camping gear in the possession of DiMaggio and Hannah was brand new. That made them appear to be novices rather than people with outdoor experience.

Second, DiMaggio told the foursome they were headed to the Salmon River, yet they were heading in the wrong direction.

"I just had a gut feeling," rancher Mike Young told a gathering of reporters today outside the Ada County Sheriff's Office..

Former Gem County Sheriff Mark John questioned the man's camping skills.

"He may been an outdoorsman in California, but he was not an outdoorsman in Idaho," John said.

John, 71, his wife Christa, 68, Young, 62, and his wife Mary, 61, were camping in the wilderness east of Cascade when on Wednesday they twice came across a man and a teenage girl on foot west of Morehead Lake.

The first encounter took place at about 9:30 a.m. The couples, longtime friends who often camp together, had left their campsite along the Sand Creek Trail southwest of the lake and while on horseback about an hour later came across the man and girl walking on the trail.

Last week, incident media coordinators told reporters a single horseman saw DiMaggio and Hannah. That information was wrong. They explained Sunday that Mark John reported the incident and the others for some unexplained reason were not included. San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, whose office is investigating the murders of Hannah's mother and brother, correctly said Thursday there were four horsemen.

When Hannah was first seen, It seemed a bit odd to the foursome that she was wearing what looked like pajamas or sweat bottoms. Christa John also noticed that when they first spotted them, the girl was 10 feet away from the man. The man then closed the gap and placed his arm around the girl.

"She looked frightened. I thought maybe she was scared of the horses," Christa John said.

DiMaggio said they were heading toward the Salmon River, but the couples, who have camped in the wilderness several times a year over the past five years, knew better.

"They were definitely going in the wrong direction," Mike Young said.

Mark John said he figured someone camping in the wilderness would have carried a map, but he didn't see one.

Later that day, at 5 p.m., the couples rode their horses to the lake and saw the pair once again. The girl later identified as Hannah was dipping her toes into the water. Mark John, who can't resist a good prank, confronted the girl.

"Why have you got your feet in the water? There's fish in the lake," John said, laughing at his recollection of the incident. The girl seemed startled by the comment, he said.

Christa John wanted to get the girl by herself and see if there was anything wrong, but Mark John told his wife to stay out of their business.

DiMaggio made what Christa John thought was a strange remark. He told her that Hannah wanted to visit Los Angeles and Hollywood, but instead he brought her to Idaho.

"That's why I brought her here," she recalled DiMaggio saying.

Mary Young, 61, tried to engage Hannah without success.

"I told her 'You must be tougher than me. I couldn't have hiked in here carrying a pack,'" Young said, referring to the steep terrain the pair had to cross on foot to get to the lake.

Christa Young said none of them felt like heroes.

"We did what anyone would have done in that situation," she said.

Andrea Dearden, spokeswoman for the Ada County Sheriff's Office, praised the foursome.

"They played the biggest role in this operation," Dearden said.

The couples arrived home in Sweet about 3:30 p.m. on Thursday. They turned on the TV and learned that DiMaggio and Hannah were subjects in an Amber Alert first issued in Southern California. They realized they were the folks they saw in the wilderness.

Mark John called Idaho State Police investigator Tom Nesbitt, who grew up in Gem County and who once worked for John. He gave Nesbitt the information, which moved the search for the pair to Idaho, after possible sightings were reported in Oregon and Washington.

It turned out the couples also provided information that led to the discovery of DiMaggio's blue 2013 Nissan Versa, which was found Friday at a trailhead 50 to 60 miles east of Cascade.

The couples told authorities that trailhead was their most likely entry point into the wilderness.

"Without that information, they would not have found the car so quickly," Dearden said.

Anderson's mother, Christina Anderson, 42, and her brother Ethan, 8, were found dead Aug. 4 in DiMaggio's burned-out house in east San Diego County, near the Mexican border.

Copyright 2013 - The Idaho Statesman

McClatchy-Tribune News Service