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Search for Danielle van Dam Continues

Aired February 10, 2002 - 22:08   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CATHERINE CALLAWAY, CNN ANCHOR: In other news tonight, a San Diego family has been living a nightmare for nine days now. There is still no sign of seven-year-old Danielle van Dam, who was kidnapped from her home in San Diego.

And CNN's Art Harris has the latest on the hunt for the missing girl.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ART HARRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A seven-year-old girl, all 58 pounds of her, nowhere to be found, triggers a missing child investigation of the rarest kind in a San Diego suburb, an apparent abduction by an acquaintance or a stranger. Stranger still, no ransom note, no message from a kidnapper.

DAMON VAN DAM, DANIELLE'S FATHER: And she was all cuddled up in her blankets with her babies, with her little babies, and she wasn't there the next morning.

BRENDA VAN DAM, DANIELLE'S MOTHER: I don't think anyone can describe the feeling that you feel inside when you get up one morning, and you go into your daughter's room and she is not there.

HARRIS: The San Diego home of Danielle van Dam declared a crime scene. To guard against contamination, police removed everyone, parents too, take 15 hours to collect possible evidence. Search teams hit the hills. Police dogs go door to door in a suburb of half million dollar homes.

DET. JIM RYAN, SAN DIEGO POLICE: Obviously when the child is still missing, you treat almost everybody as a suspect.

HARRIS: Friends, neighbors, parents all have to be ruled out. The van Dam's passed a lie detector test.

BRENDA VAN DAM: I personally was very happy to take it, because I knew that we would pass it.

HARRIS: With about 200 to 300 children a year snatched out of the blue, the majority are girls, average age 11, every second counts. In such cases, convicted sex offenders are checked from some 88,000 registered in California alone. Detectives punch in the van Dam's zip code. Thirteen names pop up in an area of 35,000 people, dozens more in counties nearby.

In a panic, one mother goes to a nearby police station to view names and photographs.

CAROL MAXWELL, FRIEND OF VAN DAMS: Some of them look like dads. They look like they could live in our neighborhood.

HARRIS: Eighty miles east of San Diego, high desert, high winds and shifting sands and daredevils that can hamper any search. But police investigate after a van Dam neighbor offers to show them where he was the day after Danielle turns up missing.

LT. JIM COLLINS, SAN DIEGO POLICE: At our request, he went with us, showed us where he was over the weekend.

HARRIS: No alibi goes unchecked. Tow truck driver, Dan Conklin, remembers coming to the neighbor's rescue.

DAN CONKLIN, OWNER DANO'S TOWING: He asked if I had something big enough and tough enough to get him out, because he had a large motor home stuck pretty far into the sand dunes.

HARRIS: Conklin towed him out. Then tells CNN he saw the neighbor later last week with police.

CONKLIN: And I didn't see him again until the police came to my gate and started asking me questions, and then they had me go out and pinpoint the area where he was. They cordoned it off and did a very extensive search. They didn't tell me if they did or didn't find anything.

HARRIS: Police also seized 13 boxes of potential evidence from the neighbor's home, and are still testing his motor home for possible forensic evidence.

(on camera): With Danielle van Dam, now missing from home here for more than a week, experts say she is well into the danger zone for abducted children. Studies show strangers kidnap about 300 children a year out of 4,600 attempts. And police say if a missing child is not found within days, perhaps hours, odds are against a happy ending.

(voice-over): Still, to keep Danielle in the public eye, the family holds daily press conferences.

BRENDA VAN DAM: We are trying to stay strong, and I have to keep telling myself that my daughter is still alive.

HARRIS: And rallies volunteers to keep searching a 25 mile radius near the house and in the desert.

DAMON VAN DAM: If you can help with this desert search that would be great. And if you're not in San Diego, if you could help anywhere -- anywhere in the country to get fliers out that would be great.

HARRIS: Art Harris, CNN, San Diego, California. (END VIDEOTAPE)

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