Body Confirmed as Danielle van Dam

ByABC News

Feb. 28, 2002 -- The body of a girl found outside of San Diego Wednesday is that of missing 7-year-old Danielle van Dam, police confirmed today.

Investigators said they had to use dental records to confirm the identity of a nude, partially decomposed corpse volunteers found Wednesday in Dehesa, an unincorporated town east of San Diego.

"Because of the condition of the body, we had to bring in a forensic dentist," said San Diego County District Attorney Paul Pfingst. "Based upon the comparison of dental records, the identification of Danielle van Dam was made certain."

Pfingst said that because of the condition of the body, the coroner was unable to determine the cause of death. Police Chief David Bejarano notified Danielle's parents, Brenda and Damon van Dam, of the findings. The van Dams did not speak to reporters today, but Bejarano said they were coping with their grief.

"They mentioned that Danielle's in good hands now," he said. "There's a lot of tears and a lot of anger at dealing with the loss of their daughter."

In addition to matching Danielle's height and hair color, investigators said the body had a plastic necklace similar to one the girl had worn. An earring matching the description of one she had been wearing also was found at the scene. No weapon was found.

Suspect Awaits Death Penalty Decision

Two people searching for the missing girl found the body behind some foliage, near a trail and among scattered rocks next to a golf course. Damon and Brenda van Dam had spearheaded one of the largest volunteer searches in state history, with hundreds of people combing nearby deserts and highways.

Meanwhile, the chief suspect in case, neighbor David Westerfield, is in custody waiting to see whether San Diego County prosecutors will seek the death penalty in Danielle's disappearance and slaying. Westerfield, who is being held without bond, has pleaded not guilty to murder and kidnapping charges and has also been charged with possession of child pornography.

If convicted, Westerfield, 50, could face the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

Danielle was last seen Feb. 1 when her father put her to bed at around 10 p.m. After she disappeared, investigators focused primarily on Westerfield, who lives two doors down from the van Dam family's suburban San Diego home.

Police say Westerfield took his motor home to an area in the desert outside San Diego for the weekend on the same morning the child was reported missing.

Investigators say DNA evidence links Westerfield to van Dam's kidnapping and slaying: her blood was found on an article of Westerfield's clothing and in his motor home.

Police also searched Westerfield's home multiple times, impounded his Toyota sport utility vehicle and motor home, and had him provide a DNA sample for analysis. Investigators who searched the mobile home said the smell of bleach was overwhelming.

Investigators also hauled at least 13 bags of evidence from Westerfield's home, including, they said, materials that appeared to be child pornography.

ABCNEWS' David Wright and ABC affiliate KGTV contributed to this report.