A group of horseback riders who spotted Hannah Anderson and James DiMaggio in Idaho backcountry shared their story of their encounter with the pair. NBC 7's Artie Ojeda reports from Idaho.
The four horseback riders who spotted missing San Diego teenager Hannah Anderson and the man accused of abducting her, James Lee DiMaggio, in Idaho backcountry, publicly shared their story of the crucial sighting on Sunday.
The horseback riders – two married couples who hail from Sweet, Idaho – included Mike Young, 62, and wife Mary Young, 61, as well as Mark John, 71, and wife Christa John, 68.
The four riders saw Hannah and DiMaggio on Wednesday in rugged Idaho backcountry near Cascade and Morehead Lake. They had a couple of brief interactions with the duo, but saw no immediate reason to be alarmed.
At the time, the Youngs and Johns were not aware of the widespread Amber Alert involving Hannah and DiMaggio.
However, on Sunday, all four riders said the pair seemed completely out of place in the Idaho backcountry – almost even “lost” in the rugged terrain.
“They were like a square peg in a round hole – they didn’t fit,” said Mark John, a former county sheriff and retired Army officer. “[DiMaggio] may have been an outdoorsman in California, but he was not an outdoorsman in Idaho – he didn’t fit.”
Mark said what immediately stuck out was that Hannah and DiMaggio did not seem to want to talk with the group. He said this seemed strange, because in the backcountry, people you run into are usually quite friendly and talkative.
“In the backcountry, you exchange pleasantries. These people did not want to talk,” he said.
“Usually when you encounter people in the backcountry, you have a good conversation about where they’ve been and where they’re going,” said Mike Young. “They didn’t want to talk.”
Mike was the first in the group to interact with Hannah and DiMaggio.
He said the teenager looked like she was “trying to turn her face away” from the group and had a frightened look on her face. In that moment, Mike said he just thought Hannah may have been afraid of the horses.
Mike said he only spoke with DiMaggio, but Hannah never spoke once during their brief interaction.
Still, Mike said a “red flag” went up, and he had a “gut feeling” that the pair didn’t belong in the wilderness.
For starters, DiMaggio told him that he and Hannah were on their way to a nearby lake. However, Mike said the pair was walking in the wrong direction.
Mike also said the pair didn’t seem appropriately dressed or well-equipped for the rough terrain.
He said Hannah was wearing pajama bottoms or sweatpants and tennis shoes, while DiMaggio was wearing a gray sweatshirt, tennis shoes and a backpack.
“I spend a lot of time in the backcountry, and you don’t often run into people wearing pajamas,” said Mike.
Mike said the pair had set up a two-man tent along a dry, dangerous ridge nearby, which also seemed a bit strange, as there was no water in the area. Mike said they looked like they had been camping for about a day or so – not very long.
He approached the pair as the group of riders was coming up a trail, and DiMaggio and Hannah wound up following the riders to a nearby lake.
When Mark approached the pair on horseback, he saw Hannah with her feet in the water and tried to make small talk with her. He said she ignored him and turned away.
As the teenager turned away, Mark said he heard her say, “Looks like we’re all in trouble now.”
Mark said the pair’s camping gear looked brand new, as if they had just bought it.
He said later that night, as the group of horseback riders discussed their interaction with Hannah and DiMaggio, they started getting a strange, suspicious feeling.
When Mark got home and turned on the news, he saw the Amber Alert and realized they had spotted Hannah and DiMaggio.
“I told my wife, ‘That was the girl we seen up there on the mountain.’” he recalled.
Mark called authorities and reported the sighting -- a critical tip that would eventually lead more than 200 federal, state and local law enforcement officials into the rural backcountry area to ultimately find Hannah and DiMaggio.
Meanwhile, Mary Young and Christa John also shared a few details about their encounters with Hannah and DiMaggio.
When Mary approached the couple on horseback on the trail, she said it appeared that DiMaggio had moved in closer to Hannah and may have had his arm around her waist. Mary said the girl appeared frightened.
When she saw the pair again at the lake, she attempted to ask Hannah why she had her feet in the water, but the teen turned her head and mostly ignored her.
“They did not want to walk with us,” said Mary. “They wanted to be left alone.”
Christa said the group got a “prickly” feeling after interacting with the pair, like something just wasn’t right.
She said the pair followed the riders into the lake quickly, and Hannah seemed sort of panicked.
She said it was simply their duty to alert authorities and report what they had seen and felt.
“For us to be there at the precise time to interact with them is one [chance] in a trillion. It was a once in a lifetime event,” said Christa. “If you had been there, you would’ve felt the same thing [about them].”
In the end, Mark said the group was thrilled and relieved to learn that Hannah was found safe by authorities in Idaho.
He said they had hoped all along that their tip to authorities would help and not hinder the search efforts.
“We were nervous at first, of what the outcomes might be,” he added. “It makes me feel really great that the girl was found safe.”
On Sunday, Valley County acting Public Information Officer Andrea Dearden said the Youngs and Johns played a truly crucial role in the safe recovery of Hannah.
“These are the four people who played the most critical role in the investigation, in bringing Hannah home safely,” said Dearden.
On Saturday, hundreds of searchers used helicopters, horses and all-terrain vehicles to scour roughly 300 miles of Idaho backcountry for any sign of Hannah and DiMaggio.
Ultimately, U.S. Marshals flying an airplane above the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness spotted the pair’s tent in the area. They called in an FBI SWAT and Hostage Rescue Team to move in on the campsite.
Shots were fired, and DiMaggio was killed. Agents were able to safely recover Hannah.
DiMaggio is suspected of killing Hannah's mother, 44-year-old Christina Anderson, and her 8-year-old brother Ethan Anderson, both of Lakeside. Their bodies were found on DiMaggio's property east of San Diego where a cabin and detached garage burned to the ground on Aug. 4.
On Sunday, Dearden said FBI agents were still at the campsite in Idaho backcountry gathering evidence and processing the scene. For safety and security reasons, Dearden offered no information about Hannah’s current whereabouts, but said she is safe.