Van Dam Searchers Find a Body

ByABC News

Feb. 27, 2002 -- Police are trying to determine whether a charred body found today outside San Diego is Danielle van Dam. One official said there is a "high probability" it is the missing 7-year-old.

Officials said two people searching for the missing girl found what appeared to be the burned body of a child in Dehesa, an unincorporated town outside San Diego. The corpse was behind some foliage, near a trail and among scattered rocks next to a golf course.

San Diego police, who are also at the scene, said in a statement that positive identification of the remains would likely take several days. But Lt. Jim Collins told reporters said that there is a "high probability" that the body is Danielle's.

"It's the body of a small child. Appears to be a female," Collins told reporters at an impromptu press conference.

"There's a high probability it is her," he said. "We have no other reports of missing children of the same description."

Collins said a forensics team was heading to the scene to obtain DNA, but that it would depend on the damage to the body. He said police would not bring van Dam's parents, Brenda and Damon to the scene.

San Diego sheriff's officials have cordoned off the area, which is on Dehesa Road, and are interviewing the two people who made the discovery. After meeting with the volunteers who have helped search for their daughter tonight, a family spokeswoman said the van Dams wanted to cancel search missions scheduled tomorrow and during the weekend.

The find comes one day after the suspect in Danielle's disappearance, David Westerfield, pleaded not guilty to murder and kidnapping charges.

In addition to kidnapping and murder, Westerfield has also been charged with possession of child pornography. He is being held without bond.

Westerfield was repeatedly questioned by police before he was arrested in the case Friday. If convicted, Westerfield would face the death penalty or life in prison without parole. Prosecutors have not decided whether to seek the death penalty.

Blood on Suspect’s Clothing and Mobile Home

Danielle van Dam was last seen Feb. 1 when her father put her to bed at around 10 p.m. Since her disappearance, investigators have 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 van Dam's blood was found on an article of Westerfield's clothing and in his motor home.

Westerfield's home has been searched multiple times, his Toyota sport utility vehicle and motor home were both impounded, and he has provided a DNA sample for analysis. The Toyota was returned to him, but police still have the mobile home. 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 about a week after the girl was reported missing Feb. 2. Among the bags of evidence were materials that appeared to be child pornography.

ABC affiliate KGTV contributed to this report.

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