Horseback riders in the remote Idaho wilderness have told police they may have encountered a California man suspected of killing a longtime friend and abducting at least one of her children, the San Diego County sheriff said on Friday.
The group of riders have told police that the fugitive was backpacking on Wednesday in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness northeast of Boise with a young woman, who may have been the 16-year-old girl he is accused of abducting, Sheriff William Gore said.
The group said they spoke with the man and young woman and realized only after returning from their excursion that night and seeing news reports that they may have encountered DiMaggio and his alleged victim.
The horseback riders said the two appeared to be in good health, and there was no indication the girl was in distress or being held against her will, but were surprised to find them carrying only light camping gear in an extremely rugged, challenging area of the national forest.
Police acting on the sighting on Thursday morning found suspect James Lee DiMaggio's blue Nissan Versa near a trailhead about five miles away, covered in brush and with the license plates removed, Gore said.
DiMaggio is wanted in the killing of Christina Anderson, 44, and in the disappearance of her two children, 16-year-old Hannah and 8-year-old Ethan, all of whom were last seen on Saturday, the day before he is suspected of setting his own house on fire.
He has been the subject of a massive manhunt, and authorities have issued child-abduction Amber Alerts across the U.S. West and notified authorities in Canada and Mexico to watch for DiMaggio and either of the two children.
San Diego County Sheriff's Captain Duncan Fraser said that the camping gear being used by DiMaggio and the girl had been purchased several weeks earlier.
"We believe this was a planned event. The information we're working with now tells us that this was planned," Fraser said.
Sheriff's officials declined to say whether any explosives were found rigged to the car, as authorities had warned they might be.
The Sheriff's Department in Ada County, Idaho, said investigators from multiple agencies were en route to the area where the horseback riders believe they came across DiMaggio and the young woman.
"This is a very remote section of land that is not easily accessible. Because of that, gathering credible information from the scene will take some time - likely several hours," the Ada County Sheriff's Department said in a statement.
"Teams are stationed at multiple access points around the wilderness area to monitor any people coming in or out. At this time, the location of Hannah Anderson, Ethan Anderson and James DiMaggio is not known," the sheriff's office said
Police have not revealed how Christina Anderson was killed. They have said a child's body found in the burned California residence may be that of Ethan Anderson, but that more time was required for a positive identification.