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CNN Live Event/Special

Parents of Girl Missing 10 Days Seek Return

Aired February 11, 2002 - 11:04   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you live now to San Diego. These are the parents of Danielle van Dam making a plea for the return of their daughter.

Let's listen in.


DAMON VAN DAM: $25,000 reward.

BRENDA VAN DAM: $25,000 reward.

D. VAN DAM: ... for the return of Danielle. This is last-minute poster we made up. We'll probably be making up a couple more...

B. VAN DAM: We are going to make up some more.

D. VAN DAM: ... and put them out.

Is this reward from the people who have been trying to donate.

QUESTION: Is this reward from the people who have been trying to donate, or is it from the family?


D. VAN DAM: This is from us.

B. VAN DAM: These are resources we've pulled from our family.

QUESTION: What about the donations that have been raised from the (UNINTELLIGIBLE)? What will that money be used for?

B. VAN DAM: We don't know. We're not involved in that. We have one person handling that.

D. VAN DAM: We haven't had to pay for anything yet for the search. It will go toward the search, as far as we know now, and we've already discussed any left over will be donated somewhere.

QUESTION: You've mentioned in the past you're concerned about the focus not being as strong. In the 10 days -- we are now in the 10th day of this -- do you hope this will keep people as... B. VAN DAM: I hope this will motivate someone who knows where she is to step forward, return her to us, or help us find her. Somebody out there knows something they're not talking about, and we just thought that maybe this money will motivate them. And that's why we're doing this.

QUESTION: Anything encouraging from the police? They called this morning. Did they you any sort of hope?

B. VAN DAM: We haven't had an update today, so no.

QUESTION: What are the things that happened late last week as a result of radio talk shows and the problems where the focus shifted to your lifestyle rather than the search for Danielle? How concerned are you that that is going to play a part in what's happening?

B. VAN DAM: That has absolutely nothing to do with our daughter being missing. We are not listening to the media.

D. VAN DAM: And we're hoping to focus will stay on Danielle. She's the victim.

B. VAN DAM: That's where we want the focus to stay.

QUESTION: I guess what I am getting at is that some of the people on these call-in shows say they're so upset with you, and they are not as concerned as they were that day before?

D. VAN DAM: We find it sad...

B. VAN DAM: It saddens us.

D. VAN DAM: ... that people will focus on that and not Danielle. Our daughter is missing, and we had nothing to do with it.


B. VAN DAM: And nothing that we have ever done has anything to do with it.

QUESTION: How are the boys?

B. VAN DAM: We pray for Danielle each night. They do question us. They just saw this. They questioned that. But we feel they're doing OK.

D. VAN DAM: They're holding up.

QUESTION: It has been 10 days.


B. VAN DAM: You know, I do not want to talk about that. That is an issue I don't want to talk about.

QUESTION: You went out and visited the volunteers yesterday. B. VAN DAM: Yes.

QUESTION: How did that go?

B. VAN DAM: It made us feel very good to see everybody working, and it also made us feel very good to thank everyone in person. That's what we went there for, to thank everyone in person. It was very heart moving.

D. VAN DAM: Heart warming.

B. VAN DAM: Heart warming, and we want to thank all of them for donating our time in helping us to find our daughter.

QUESTION: What volunteers are still needed today (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

D. VAN DAM: More volunteers are still needed today. Up to this weekend, it was a big weekend in the desert, and we're hoping for lots of volunteers for this weekend.


B. VAN DAM: It's the Laura Recovery Foundation, and they're based at the Doubletree Hotel in Carmel Mountain.


D. VAN DAM: Search through this coming weekend, all week. This coming weekend, we know a three-day weekend is a big weekend in the desert.

QUESTION: What were your concerns? What would you be doing today to try to push this forward?


B. VAN DAM: We are posting this reward. We have done national shows posting this reward. We have a couple more to do today, so people nationally know that we have posted this reward. And we are hoping and praying that this will motivate someone to come forward.

QUESTION: It has been 10 days. Are your feelings starting to get...

B. VAN DAM: It gets harder every day.

D. VAN DAM: It's getting harder, but we're holding onto the hope.

B. VAN DAM: We're very emotionally drained. And it's hard to -- what we're doing is keeping in our minds that Danielle is alive and she's coming home, and that keeps us strong.

QUESTION: Where are you searching today, and how many volunteers do you expect? B. VAN DAM: We don't know where they are searching today. They're doing that for us. The Laura Recovery Foundation.

Thank you, guys.

D. VAN DAM: Thanks everybody for keeping the word out.

KAGAN: We're been listening to statements from Brenda and Damon van Dam as they speak outside their San Diego home. It's been 10 days since their 7-year-old daughter disappeared. The search goes on.

Today they are making the announcement they got together with members of their family and friends and have come up with a $25,000 reward for information leading to the discovery of what happened to Danielle van Dam.

Once again, 10 days ago, she went missing from her own home.

We sent our investigative correspondent Art Harris to southern California to learn more about the search for Danielle van Dam, and now he has this update.


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.

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

B. VAN DAM: 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.

B. 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.

B. 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.

D. 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.