Car in California missing teen case found 70 miles northeast of Boise
San Diego Sheriff's Department, File, Associated Press
CASCADE, Idaho — The search for 16-year-old Hanna Anderson and her suspected abductor, 40-year-old James Lee DiMaggio, has spanned three states and thousands of miles.
But now that law enforcement officers are at their closest yet to finding the pair, they face perhaps the most challenging search area of all.
The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness is the largest roadless area in the Lower 48 states, sprawling across central Idaho and reaching north to the Montana border. To call the mountainous terrain rugged is an understatement.
"It's called the River of No Return for a reason," said Mike Medberry, a 57-year-old writer and backpacking enthusiast who hiked in the area three summers ago. "This is country that is really up and down. It's harsh and rugged, with steep terrain, lots of downed logs and thick brush."
DiMaggio is suspected of killing Hannah's mother Christina Anderson, 44, and her 8-year-old brother Ethan Anderson, whose bodies were found Sunday night in DiMaggio's burning house in California near the Mexico border.
Ethan Anderson's remains were not positively identified until Friday night, when the San Diego County Sheriff's Department said its crime lab had used DNA to determine Ethan's identity. An Amber Alert was initially issued for both children.
DiMaggio's car was found Friday morning about 40 miles east of the tiny town of Cascade, parked where the dirt road ends and the Sand Creek trailhead enters the wilderness area.
The discovery came about two days after a horseback rider reported seeing the man and girl hiking in the area. Ada County Sheriff's department spokeswoman Andrea Dearden, who is helping the Valley County sheriff's department handle the case, said the rider didn't realize the pair were being sought until he got home and recognized the pair in news reports.
There have been no other reported sightings of the pair since Wednesday, but the discovery launched a massive search in the southwest corner of The Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.
More than 100 people were searching on foot and on horseback or were on their way to join the search of an area that Ada County sheriff's spokesman Patrick Orr described Friday evening as covering 320 square miles.
"A missing hiker in the foothills is different than searching for a murder suspect, and the risk of that alone comes as a challenge to the search teams," Dearden said. "When you have a square mile on flatter land, or even water, you can create a grid and literally search every inch. But when you have terrain like this, and this much land, you just can't do that."
The search area is bisected by the Middle Fork the Salmon River, a wild waterway that winds through steep canyons and dense forests. The river is extremely popular for recreationists and floaters, some of whom will pay up to $2,000 for multi-day, guided trips down the river.
But away from the river, it's easy to disappear, said Jared Hopkinson, the owner of Rocky Mountain River Tours in Stanley, Idaho.
Hopkinson said a backpacker can hike for days without seeing a soul — not a fellow camper, not a rafter, not one of the maybe-mythical Idaho hermits that river guides are fond of telling stories about.
"If you wanted to go days without being seen, that's the place to do it," said Hopkinson. "There's a few river lodges that are accessible by fixed wing plane and raft, but other than that it is untouched by mankind, the same way it was when there were dinosaurs."
This time of year, the temperatures generally dip into the 40s at night and reach into the 80s during the day, said Rob Terry, the mayor of Cascade and a backcountry pilot who volunteers with the fire department, often helping injured recreationists trapped in the wilderness area.
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