Two months after a nationwide manhunt helped authorities track down kidnapped California teen Hannah Anderson, she’s revealing new details about her conversations with the man who allegedly held her hostage and killed her mother and brother.
In an interview with NBC’s “Today” show broadcast Thursday morning, Anderson described the moment she says she realized family friend James DiMaggio was kidnapping her in early August. He had just picked her up from cheerleading practice and took her to his home about an hour east of San Diego — apparently, she said she’d eventually learn, with her mom and brother hidden somewhere inside.
Anderson says DiMaggio sat her down on a couch, handcuffed her, zip-tied her feet and revealed his plan to kidnap her and drive her to Idaho. The day quickly took an even darker turn, Anderson said, when DiMaggio encouraged her to play Russian roulette with him, using a real gun.
“When it was my turn, I started crying and, like, was freaking out,” Anderson said. “And he said, ‘Do you want to play?’ And I said, ‘No,’ and I started crying, and he’s like, ‘OK,’ and he stopped.”
Anderson said DiMaggio told her that her mother, Christina Anderson, 42, and her brother Ethan, 8, were elsewhere in the house, alive.
Anderson, 16, said that she could hear Ethan.
“I heard him trying to yell upstairs, but he was gagged, so I couldn’t do anything to help him,” Anderson said. “I was yelling his name. I couldn’t do anything.”
She said after about two to three hours, DiMaggio drugged her — with Ambien, she thinks — and when she woke up, she found herself in Idaho with him.
That’s when he told her, she said, that her mother and Ethan still were in the house’s garage, and that he had set a timer that would ignite a fire at the home, many hours after DiMaggio and Anderson had left.
DiMaggio told her that he had left signs that would indicate to responding firefighters — before the fire reached the garage — where Christina Anderson and Ethan were, Hannah Anderson told “Today.”
Authorities would eventually find the remains of Christina Anderson in the burned garage and Ethan’s body in another part of the home. Christina Anderson was struck at least 12 times in the head; her right arm and both legs were fractured, and she had a cut on her neck, an autopsy revealed.
The woman’s ankles were bound by a plastic cable tie, and duct tape was wrapped around her neck and mouth, her autopsy report said.
Ethan was burned beyond recognition. It was believed, according to the autopsy, that the boy died because of the fire.
After evading authorities for a week, horseback riders spotted DiMaggio and Hannah Anderson in the Idaho wilderness, nearly 1,000 miles from where the alleged kidnapping occurred.
Anderson said DiMaggio told her he’d kill the riders if she spoke to them. DiMaggio spoke to them, and they left, she said.
But those riders, feeling something was amiss and learning that an Amber Alert had been issued, contacted authorities.
When law enforcement teams closed in on the two August 10, DiMaggio was shot dead by an FBI agent and Anderson was taken to a hospital.
Recalling the moments before the shooting, Anderson told “Today” that she and DiMaggio were by a fire, which she said he’d set in an effort to signal for help. She didn’t say why he was trying to signal for assistance.
She said she told him that she’d read in a book that firing a gun three times in the air also was a signal for help. So, she said, Anderson fired a gun once in the air, and then a second time — but with a lowered aim.
“Then a bunch of guns went off. I looked and he fell on the ground,” she said. “I kind of looked over, and I was like, ‘Are you OK?’ And then a bunch of, like, the FBI people came out, telling me to get down.”
“He told me he had a crush on me,” she said in the interview that aired Thursday.
Anderson said she was told the next day, in the hospital, that her mother, her brother and DiMaggio were dead.
With tears, Anderson said she greatly missed her mother and brother.
“Sometimes it’s like I wait for them to get home, and then they’re not there,” she said.
The nationwide manhunt for DiMaggio drew widespread attention and sparked intense speculation about the case.
A new book criticizing the teen’s behavior and claiming there are inconsistencies in her story has drawn criticism from Anderson’s family, CNN affiliate KGTV reported. The teen’s family told the CNN affiliate that the author of “The River of No Return,” set to be published next month, is trying to cash in on their harrowing ordeal.
Addressing letters between Anderson and DiMaggio that authorities found in his burned home, Anderson told “Today” that she had been writing to DiMaggio, a family friend, because her mother and father had split up.
“Me and my mom really didn’t get along a year ago, so when I was having problems with her and I wouldn’t have really anyone to talk about it with, me and him, instead of talking face to face if we didn’t have time … we’d just write letters back and forth, talking about, like, the situation and how to get through it,” she said.
Her father, Brett Anderson, told “Today” that he and his daughter are working through the ordeal.
“We’re getting help and talking with each other and trying to be strong (and) moving forward,” he said.
CNN’s Faith Karimi contributed to this report.