Police Search Car, Home for Missing Girl

ByABC News

Feb. 5, 2002 -- Police searching for a missing San Diego girl questioned a neighbor today and impounded his vehicle as they continued to look for clues in the 7-year-old's disappearance.

The neighbor, identified by ABCNEWS affiliate KGTV as David Westerfield, lives two houses away from the home of Danielle van Dam. Police have also seized Westerfield's vehicle, a late model Toyota SUV that was parked in front of his home. Westerfield said he was cooperating with authorities and that police have searched his home and removed several items for examination.

"I was gone all weekend," he told KGTV. "I offered to let them [police] look through everything and check it."

San Diego police have stressed that Westerfield has not been charged with a crime and that he is only one of several people they want to question. They say they have few clues and leads in the disappearance of Danielle, who police say was last seen at around 9 p.m. Friday, when her father put her to bed. On Monday, police said the case had been officially classified as an abduction and was no longer a missing person case.

"We have no reason to believe she walked away," San Diego Police Department spokesman Dave Cohen said. "We would have found her already if that was the case."

The girl was only discovered to be missing the next morning, when a friend came to visit, and Danielle's parents found her room was empty.

"I still go through the house and I look and I hope she's going to be there," Danielle's mother Brenda said. "You look in the strangest places, you know. You think you're going to open the door and see her and she's not there."

Police do not consider the parents suspects in Danielle's disappearance, though no one has been completely ruled out, said San Diego police Lt. Jim Collins, the lead investigator on the case.

Danielle's mother, Brenda van Dam, said that she and her husband had taken lie detector tests regarding their version of the weekend's events. She did not say if she knew the results of the tests.

‘Our Hearts Are Aching’

Police have been searching the area with helicopters and sniffer dogs since Saturday, scouring canyons around the Sabre Springs neighborhood where the van Dams live. As late as Monday evening, police were still saying that they had no suspects and few clues in the case.

Investigators questioned registered sex offenders in the area. The FBI was offering assistance but was not actively investigating because there was no evidence Danielle had left California, spokeswoman Jan Caldwell said.

Danielle's parents broke their silence Monday, issuing a plea for their daughter's return.

"I am pleading with anyone who has seen Danielle, who knows where she is, please come forward so we can have our daughter home again," her father Damon van Dam said, holding up a pair of blue pajamas he said were similar to the ones Danielle was wearing when she went to bed Friday night.

"Our hearts are aching for the safe return of our very special girl," he said.

Van Dam said he woke up at around 1:30 Saturday morning to let the dog out, and noticed the back door was open. He closed it and went back to bed. His wife had spent the evening out with friends, and she said she did not check on Danielle or the girl's two brothers when she came home, though she said she noticed the back gate and the side door to the home were both open.

"I don't think anyone can describe the feeling that you feel inside when you get up one morning and you go into your daughter's room and she's not there," Brenda van Dam said. "No words can describe that, there's a hole in my body."

‘Hurry Home Danielle’

Family, friends and neighbors, have been passing out fliers and searching the community themselves for any trace of the girl. About 200 people turned out Sunday night for a candlelight vigil, hoping to help the family know that their neighbors care.

A corner park near the van Dams' home was adorned Monday with pink and purple ribbons and a large banner reading: "Hurry Home, Danielle. We Miss You."

One neighbor, Adel Crawford-Laumer, said she felt she had to do anything she could to help find Danielle. She spent Monday passing out flyers and talking to residents.

"Poway-Sabre Springs is a big community, but when something like this happens, it's a small community; it's a small town," she said. "I have three kids that go to school in this area, and they have just been very upset about what happened to this little girl, and want to do something. As a family, this is what we wanted to do."

Damon van Dam, who works at Qualcomm, and his wife, Brenda, who is active as a volunteer with the school and other neighborhood activities, were said to be very involved with their children. They moved to the neighborhood from Florida three years ago.

ABCNEWS.com's Dean Schabner and ABCNEWS affiliate KGTV contributed to this report.

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