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Oliver: Media exposure offered help for Hannah

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

The story of Hannah Anderson, a 16-year-old girl from Lakeside, Calif., who was abducted, riveted my attention.

A family friend, James Lee DiMaggio, took off with her Aug. 4 after setting fire to his San Diego County home.

The manhunt began when the burned bodies of Anderson’s mother, Christina, 44, and a child were found. The body of Anderson’s brother, Ethan, 8, was identified five days later.

DiMaggio was the best friend of Anderson’s father, Brett, and like an uncle to the children, driving Anderson to gymnastics meets and trips.

One of Anderson’s friends told reporters that the teen had become uncomfortable around DiMaggio, who purportedly told her that he had a crush on her.

Anderson said she didn’t tell her parents because she didn’t want to ruin the friendship DiMaggio had with her father.

DiMaggio’s blue Nissan Versa reportedly was spotted Aug. 7 in northern California and in south-central Oregon.

A break came two days later, when the Versa was found at a trailhead in Cascade, Idaho.

Authorities there said a horseback rider had spotted a man with a teenage girl near a lake about 8 miles inside the boundary of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.

The former Idaho county sheriff said he felt that something was wrong and was able to provide details that helped authorities narrow their search.

Anderson was rescued the next day after her campsite was spotted from the air and FBI agents moved in. DiMaggio was killed.

Just three days after being rescued, Anderson reportedly took to social media, on a site called Ask.fm, to answer questions from other users about her ordeal, her life, and her likes and dislikes.

She provided details about how DiMaggio had gotten the family to his home (he said he was moving to Texas) and how he treated her while on the run (he threatened to kill her and anyone who tried to help her).

What she wasn’t interested in doing was talking to “the media.” In response to a post by reporters at U-T San Diego, she replied: “All you guys don’t know the story. And you don’t need too [sic]. You already got a lot of things mixed up. So please just leave me and my family alone so we can heal. Thank you.”

She did not elaborate on what those inaccuracies were.

When it was pointed out to her that the reason she had been found was that “the media” got her story out, she replied: “Well they should really get their stories straight before putting it on tv. It could really hurt someone.”

And therein lies a contradiction I find puzzling and disheartening.

In a breaking-news story, sources often give conflicting information and details are updated as clearer information is gathered. It’s an unfortunate reality.

Yet most of us want to get the story right. Sometimes we even get to help authorities bring about a somewhat happy ending.

Perhaps in time Anderson will come to realize that. 

But if not, “the media” still did their job and Hannah is home with the freedom to heal.

• Joan Oliver is the assistant news editor for the Northwest Herald. She can be reached at 815-526-4552 or by email at joliver@shawmedia.com.

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