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Suspect Arrested in Danielle van Dam Case

Aired February 22, 2002 - 15:29   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Quickly to San Diego, police now talking about the latest. They have a suspect under arrest in the missing girl, Danielle van Dam.


DAVID BERJARNO, SAN DIEGO POLICE CHIEF: About three weeks ago, Mr. and Mrs. van Dam experienced a parent's worst nightmare, a fear that all of us would not like to experience as far as finding a seven- year-old daughter, their daughter, Danielle, missing.

This morning, at approximately 10:45, we arrested David Westerfield, 49 years of age, for the kidnapping of Danielle. He was arrested at 23rd and Broadway as he was leaving his attorney's office. This arrest occurred after a round-the-clock investigation, surveillance, processing of DNA evidence, laboratory work, over three weeks.

We believe, without a question, that the DNA evidence links Mr. Westerfield to Danielle's disappearance. Danielle's blood was found on an article of clothing which belongs to Mr. Westerfield and also in his motor home. The analysis of these blood sources was conducted here in our lab. And it's a real methodical, complex procedure requiring hours and days of processing.

We will continue to follow up on our initial priority. And that is following up on any information, any tips in the hopes, being optimistic, of finding Danielle. As I mentioned earlier, this has been a priority, a commitment by our department since we received that initial 911 call on Saturday morning, February the 2nd. At one point, we had over 150 law enforcement personnel involved in the search for Danielle.

We received a lot of assistance from the sheriff's search-and- rescue team, covering acres and acres of land two and three times. We also had a lot of assistance from the Chula Vista Police Department and the El Cajon Police Department. We also received some assistance from the state Department of Justice, as I mentioned before the sheriff's department. But I wanted particularly to really recognize the FBI, under the leadership of Bill Gore for their assistance.

Since day one, they have assigned two investigators to work with our personnel. We have also had an analyst who I believe is still working on this case and have also provided some technical support and also some assistance out of Quantico. We can't thank them enough for their assistance on this case.

As you know, this has been a very difficult case for all of us in law enforcement and for the community. It's been quite emotional over the last three weeks. And this is a significant development in the finding, hopefully, at some point, of Danielle, a very tragic case.

I'd like to thank many members of our department who played a major role in the investigation from day one. The initial response and search efforts were led by Captain Nancy Goodrich out of our Northeastern Division. And pretty much the entire division was involved over days and weeks in this investigation.

The overall investigation was led by one of my assistant chiefs, Steve Craton (ph). The captain overseeing the investigation, once it left Northeastern, is Captain Ron Yuman (ph). We also had investigators from our special investigations unit, criminal intelligence unit, robbery, child abuse. And there's many people, but I am going to mention a few, because there's so many people that were involved.

We have Lieutenants Jim Duncan (ph) from our homicide unit heavily involved in this particular case, Lieutenant Jim Collins (ph), who, again, played a major role over three weeks -- Sergeant Judy Woods (ph). And two investigators in particular have really been involved on the investigative side. And that is Detectives Mark Kaiser (ph) and Mike Hawk (ph).

As I mentioned before, also, our lab has played a critical role in connecting that DNA evidence to Mr. Westerfield. And, again, that is led under the direction of our laboratory manager, Mike Grub (ph). And the process, again, started with the identification, preservation, collection, and analysis of this critical DNA evidence.

I would also like to thank -- the media has played a major role from day one, also, as far as helping us get information out to the community, have been working with us. We have had, as you know, many members of the community here in San Diego and outside San Diego actually involved in the search for Danielle. So we can't thank them enough.

And, with that, keep in mind, we just made the arrest a few hours ago. I cannot provide you with a lot of details. We are working, obviously, with the district attorney's office. And they have been involved in this case from the beginning. And they will continue working with us over the next weeks and months. But keep in mind, I cannot disclose a lot of information regarding the investigation. But I'll be happy to take some of your questions.


BEJARNO: One at a time. Raise your hand one at a time and I'll get to you.

QUESTION: Chief, what's the next for Westerfield? Is he going to county next? What's happening with this guy? BEJARNO: Well, again, the arrest just occurred a couple hours ago. He's being processed here at our police department, going through the entire booking process, the possibility of maybe an interview.

So it is probably going to be several hours before we actually book him into the county jail. As I mentioned before, he was arrested for kidnapping at this point.


UNIDENTIFIED ANCHOR: Chief Bejarno answering questions here. We cannot hear the question from where she is at. She has her back to us.

BEJARNO: Well, again, at this point, we don't have a motive. Again, we just made the arrest here recently. We have obviously had a number of conversations with Mr. Westerfield over the last couple of weeks. But we are not aware of any motive at this point.

As I mentioned before, he was arrested for kidnapping. As we continue on with the investigation, we'll make a determination at some point what, if any other charges, could be issued against Mr. Westerfield.


UNIDENTIFIED ANCHOR: Hard to hear the questions, folks. The wind is blowing.


BEJARNO: Correct. As I mentioned before, the processing of DNA evidence is a real lengthy process. It has to goes through the process, the collection, the breakdown of the chemicals. And sometimes we have to wait hours and days for that process to be completed.

This morning -- late this morning, we actually completed part of that DNA evidence that links, again, based on information we have from clothing belonging to Mr. Westerfield, evidence recovered from the motor home and also some evidence recovered from Danielle's bedroom that we strongly believe, without a question, there definitely is a direct link to Mr. Westerfield.

So we learned of that late this morning. And our intention was to make the arrest as soon as possible.


BEJARNO: Again, that's very difficult. As a father, I'm optimistic, at some point, we will find Danielle. On the law enforcement side of it, we all know that the opportunity is less and less every hour, every day that goes by. But we'll continue to follow up on any information, any tip that we have in locating Danielle.

And keep in mind that, at this point, we probably have close to 600 tips or pieces of information regarding this investigation.

QUESTION: Chief, I have another question if you don't mind.

BEJARNO: Be back in a second.


BEJARNO: At this point, I have no information as far as what information he has shared with us, if any, since the arrest.

Hold on. I'll get you in a second.


BEJARNO: The arrest -- we wanted to make the arrest as soon as possible after we received the final piece of DNA analysis. So part of the surveillance was, it could have been 2:00 in the morning. It could have been at noon. We were prepared to make an arrest at any location at any time as soon as the analysis was completed.



BEJARNO: Well, again, I can't provide any details as far as that particular process. But, based on the information you have received, again, all of you are aware that we do have some bloodstains that were recovered from Mr. Westerfield's, an article of clothing, and also from his motor home.

And, as I mentioned earlier, we do have an article of clothing belonging to Danielle that we recovered from her bedroom that, again, without a question, provides that DNA link between Danielle and Mr. Westerfield.


BEJARNO: Small bloodstains, yes.


BEJARNO: No, not in the bedroom.


BEJARNO: Simply -- the only information I can provide at this point is simply some DNA evidence that we recovered from the bedroom.

QUESTION: Chief, could you have made this arrest a couple of days ago? Were you just waiting to put the final hook into it? How far back did you feel this was him, and you just needed a few more things to make it the case?

BEJARNO: Well, again, as I mentioned before, we wanted to take, make an arrest as soon as possible. But we wanted to make sure that this investigation, from the beginning, was done correctly, thoroughly, methodically, making sure we had all the analysis.

We were waiting for that piece of evidence, again, that would make that definite link. And that occurred this morning.


BEJARNO: I can simply state at this point, it is a piece of article belonging to Mr. Westerfield. And, again, the other piece of evidence was in the motor home.


BEJARNO: No, I don't have the exact amount, but simply some small amount of bloodstains.

Right in the middle.


BEJARNO: Hold on a second. Let me get a couple more and then I'll come back over here.


BEJARNO: I'm not sure I heard all of the question because of the noise.

But, again, without a question, based on this analysis, we are extremely confident of the DNA link, the connection there, based on the pieces of evidence that we have, again, between the collection from an article of clothing from Danielle and the DNA evidence that we have from Mr. Westerfield. I can't stress enough how strong that link is.


BEJARNO: At some point, if we are unable to locate Danielle, we'll make that determination as we continue on with the investigation. But, again, it's a very, very strong link.



BEJARNO: As you know, we went through Danielle's bedroom from the beginning. There were some prints that were lifted. And that's still part of the process to determine who those fingerprints belong to.


BEJARNO: I'm not aware if the attorney is actually here. I don't believe he is.

Maybe one or two questions.

QUESTION: Yes, one last thing.

Were there negotiations going on this morning, or maybe through the night, with the attorney, with him? Did you present this to him earlier today and say, "Here's what we have"?

BEJARNO: No, absolutely no.

QUESTION: Did he ever say, "I'll take a lie detector"? Did he ever say that "I didn't do this"? Was he strong in that?

BEJARNO: No, as I mentioned before, very few people were aware of the pending arrest. This morning -- again, we are waiting for that final analysis to be completed.

QUESTION: Did you have a fear of flight, that maybe he would have taken off? But he couldn't. Everybody and their sister is watching the guy.

BEJARNO: Well, that is part of the surveillance. He was a potential suspect early on in the investigation. And that's why we continued on with the 24-hour surveillance. But, again, we were waiting for that final analysis. And we wanted to make an immediate arrest.

Maybe one more question.


BEJARNO: No. There were no discussions with the attorney. Again, we wanted to make the arrest as soon as possible after the completion of the analysis. Thank you.

HEMMER: All right, there is the information from San Diego. A neighbor, David Westerfield, age 49, apparently has been charged at this time with kidnapping.

The evidence, police in San Diego say, they say they have found blood on the clothing of the suspect, blood from Danielle van Dam, age 7, and also blood in David Westerfield's motor home. They also indicate there, if you listen closely, a piece of her clothing from her bedroom apparently had some type of DNA evidence on it as well.

Quoting the police there: "DNA links Mr. Westerfield to Danielle's disappearance." They would not go any further than that. But they do call this a significant development.

It was three weeks ago tonight when 7-year-old Danielle van Dam was put to bed around 10:00 local time in California. Upon the next morning, about 10:00 a.m., the parents report that they called 911 after noticing that their daughter was not in her bedroom and not in their home. About 90 minutes ago, also, we heard from the parents outside of their house.

Here is what they had to say about today's development.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BRENDA VAN DAM, DANIELLE'S MOTHER: We are very happy that the police have made an arrest. We were forewarned that it was going to happen. But the fact still remains that we don't have our daughter. We need to continue searching for Danielle. That's the most important thing here.


B. VAN DAM: I don't want to speculate. But we still need searchers. And we need to find Danielle.

DAMON VAN DAM, DANIELLE'S FATHER: Help us find Danielle.



B. VAN DAM: The only thing I can tell you is, they informed us of the arrest.

D. VAN DAM: Moments before it happened, they informed us.

QUESTION: Did they tell you what information led to the arrest?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The importance here is, we still need volunteers for this weekend.

B. VAN DAM: Definitely.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need Danielle back. That's where we need the help.

Yes, we will keep searching.

D. VAN DAM: If you're watching this, please come help.


HEMMER: Again, that comment from 90 minutes ago. We now know police have arrested the neighbor, David Westerfield, age 49, charged with kidnapping right now in the disappearance of Danielle van Dam -- more when we get it.