Kidnapping survivor Hannah Anderson said she tried to distance herself from the family friend — who eventually abducted her and killed her mother and brother — after he revealed he had a crush on her.
In an exclusive interview that aired Thursday on TODAY, the San Diego teenager said she often brought friends to the home of James Lee DiMaggio because they would “always play games there and stuff. We had a go-cart. It was really fun.”
But DiMaggio, 40, got disturbed when she wanted to bring over a male friend.
“He’d get really upset that it was a boy. And he told me, he said, ‘It's not that I don't want your friends up here. It's that I don't want to see you kissing your friends or anything like that, because I have a crush on you. Not a crush that, like, feeling a crush as in -- like family, like I care about you,’” Hannah, 16, told Guthrie. “And it kind of seemed really weird.”
She said she had trusted DiMaggio because he helped her through a rough patch when her parents separated last year and she wasn’t getting along with her mother.
“I wouldn’t have really anyone to talk about it with,” she told Guthrie. “Me and him, instead of talking face to face, if we didn’t have time or, like calling, we’d just write letters back and forth, talking about the situation and how to get through it.”
But Hannah said she started keeping her distance after DiMaggio revealed his crush. That left him agitated.
“He got upset about that and would always text me and say that I was rude and I was trying to stay out of his life," she said. "And basically I was, after that, but I couldn't, because he was my dad's best friend and he was always there for my mom."
DiMaggio eventually lured Hannah to his home on Aug. 3 and held her captive, setting off a weeklong search that stretched along the western United States. It ended with a dramatic rescue in the Idaho wilderness after four horseback riders spotted the duo and thought they looked out of place.
Hannah said DiMaggio handcuffed her hands and tied up her feet before he laid out his plans, which included a game of Russian roulette on the couch.
"When it was my turn, I started crying, and was freaking out," she said. "And he said, 'Do you want to play?' And I said, 'No.' And I started crying and then he's like, 'Okay.' And he stopped."
Hannah said DiMaggio had taken her to his home after picking her up from cheerleading camp. He initially told her that her mother and 8-year-old brother were upstairs, alive, but Hannah said she quickly realized she was in danger. She said she heard her brother yelling, but he seemed to be gagged and her restraints restricted her from doing anything.
"I was yelling his name. But I couldn't do anything," she recalled. DiMaggio then drugged her and she woke up hours later in Idaho and learned that he had rigged his home to explode, killing her mother and brother inside.
Hannah said while the two were in the wilderness of Idaho, there were several times she wondered whether she should make a run for it, especially when they ran into the group of horseback riders. But DiMaggio threatened to kill both her and the riders.
"I remember hearing them come behind us the first time and Jim would say, 'Don't. Act normal. If you say something, I'm gonna have to kill them.' So I'd have to sit and I'd have to just act normal,'" she said.
But the riders grew suspicious and, after returning home and seeing an Amber Alert about Hannah's disappearance, they contacted authorities, who quickly zeroed in on their location in the woods. Hannah said DiMaggio was distressed and had just fired off his gun into the air, at her suggestion, to send out an SOS signal.
“And then a bunch of guns went off and I looked and he fell on the the ground. And I kind of looked over and I was, like, ‘Are you okay?’ And then a bunch of the FBI people came out, telling me to get down."
Today, Hannah said she feels "sick, disgusted" when she thinks of DiMaggio. She continues to struggle with the death of her mother and brother.
"I miss them so much that sometimes ... I wait for them to get home and then they're not there," she said, through tears.
Hannah credits her life to the riders she ran into on the trail. “I probably wouldn’t be here right now” without them, she said.
Guthrie then surprised her by bringing the group who spotted her into the studio.
“Thank you,” Hannah said.
One of the riders, Christa John, teared up at their meeting. “I still think you’re one tough lady,” she said.
Hannah’s father, Brett Anderson, said he and his daughter continue to work out their grief. “We’re getting help and talking with each other and trying to be strong and know that we need to move forward, and that's what her mother would want,” he said.