Police arrest neighbor in case of missing San Diego girl

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SAN DIEGO -- A neighbor of a 7-year-old girl abducted from her bedroom three weeks ago was arrested Friday after her blood was found on his clothing and in his motor home, police said. The girl was still missing.

Police led David Westerfield, 49, away in handcuffs as he left his attorney's office. There was no new information on the fate of Danielle van Dam, who has not been seen since her father put her to bed on Feb. 1.

DNA tests completed Friday confirmed that blood in his vehicle and on a piece of his clothing was the girl's, San Diego Police Chief David Bejarano said

"We strongly believe without question there definitely is a direct link to Mr. Westerfield," the chief said.

Westerfield, a self-employed engineer who lives two doors away from the van Dam family, was questioned several times by investigators in the days after Danielle's disappearance. Police seized his motor home, a sport utility vehicle and other property as authorities and volunteers searched a desert area east of San Diego where Westerfield said he traveled the weekend of her disappearance.

Danielle's parents discovered her missing on the morning of Feb. 2 when they went to wake her.

"We are very happy that the police made an arrest," the girl's mother, Brenda van Dam, told reporters outside the family home in northern San Diego. "We were forewarned that it was going to happen. But the fact still remains that we don't have our daughter."

Westerfield, a divorced father of two who lives alone, appeared calm as he was led into an unmarked police car.

Bejarano said Westerfield has no known criminal record. Investigators searching his home found child pornography, the police chief said, declining to give any details about the material.

A small amount of blood was found on an undisclosed article of clothing belonging to Westerfield and inside his motor home. Analysts matched the blood to Danielle by comparing it to DNA evidence taken from her clothing.

Police are analyzing fingerprints taken from the girl's bedroom but so far have not matched any of them to Westerfield, Bejarano said.

Investigators believe the girl was taken from her second-story bedroom. They have no conclusive evidence on whether she is still alive but Bejarano said he remains hopeful.

"As a father, I'm optimistic that at some point we will find Danielle," he said. "On the law enforcement side of it, we all know that the opportunity is less and less every hour, every day that goes by."

Westerfield was interviewed by investigators Friday before being transferred to San Diego County jail later in the day. He is expected to be arraigned Tuesday.

His attorney, Steven Feldman, said he will likely ask a judge to impose a gag order on everyone involved in the case to ensure a fair trial.

"We certainly intend to mount a vigorous defense but we don't wish to try the case in the media," Feldman told reporters.

The van Dams have said they don't know Westerfield well, characterizing him as an acquaintance to whom they waved and exchanged greetings. Brenda van Dam said her daughter sold him Girl Scout cookies last year.

Westerfield, who turns 50 Monday, told reporters he saw Brenda van Dam at a bar near their home the night Danielle was last seen. He said he left the bar around 10:30 p.m.

Danielle was put to bed by her father, Damon van Dam, about 10 p.m. on Feb. 1. He stayed home with Danielle and her two brothers while Brenda was at the bar with friends.

Brenda van Dam came home around 2:30 a.m., then stayed up for an hour with her husband and friends. She said she made sure the children's bedroom doors were closed to keep from disturbing them, but didn't check on the children.

Danielle was discovered missing about 9 o'clock the next morning.

The case has sparked intense media attention, with Danielle's disappearance featured on the crime-fighting show "America's Most Wanted."

Danielle's parents have offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to the safe return of their daughter. On Friday, they called for volunteers to continue in the effort to find her.

Neighbors of the van Dam's upper middle class Sabre Springs neighborhood of San Diego expressed relief over the arrest.

"I definitely feel safer, but I don't think I'll sleep until she's found," said Sabre Springs resident Kathy Kelley as she played with her two young sons in the neighborhood park.


On the Net: www.daniellemissing.com


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