Van Dam Parents Prepare for Sad Birthday

ByABC News
September 19, 2002, 6:44 PM

S A N  D I E G O, Sept. 19 -- Danielle van Dam's family is getting ready to throw her a big party this Sunday, when she would have turned 8.

"I wanted to try my hardest to make it a positive day and to give back to the community," said her mother, Brenda, referring to neighbors and other volunteers who turned out in their thousands to help look for Danielle after the little girl was abducted from her bedroom in February.

But, Brenda van Dam admitted, "It's going to be one of the hardest days I'll ever have to deal with."

About a month after Danielle disappeared, her body was found in the desert southeast of San Diego. David Westerfield, a 50-year-old engineer who lived two houses away from the van Dams, was convicted of kidnapping and murdering her. Last week, a jury recommended that he be put to death.

"It's weird the things you miss. The sound of her voice. I miss the feeling of her hands," Brenda van Dam said. She and her husband, Damon, spoke to Primetime's Charles Gibson in an exclusive interview at their home in Sabre Springs, outside San Diego.

Empty Bedroom

The van Dams first noticed Danielle was missing when Brenda went into her bedroom to wake her up on the morning of Saturday, Feb. 2. Danielle had never left the house without telling her parents, so they immediately called police.

Westerfield's name came up early on, when police searched 200 houses in the area and his was the only one that was empty. Westerfield later told police he had gone on a meandering two-day trip around the county in his motor home, but police told the van Dams they were suspicious of him.

The van Dams barely knew Westerfield. Brenda and Danielle had been to his house a few days earlier, selling Girl Scout cookies, and Brenda had seen him at a local bar the night of Danielle's disappearance.

As the search went on, and swelled to one of the largest volunteer searches in history, police became more and more sure Westerfield was involved. Then, on Feb. 22, the police chief called the van Dams in and told them they were arresting Westerfield because they found traces of Danielle's blood on a jacket he had taken to the dry cleaner's.