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Neighbor still 'potential suspect' in missing girl case

Danielle van Dam
Danielle van Dam  

SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- Police investigating the disappearance of a 7-year-old girl believed to have been kidnapped from her bedroom nearly two weeks ago have again searched the home of a neighbor they say is the only "potential suspect" at this point.

San Diego Police Lt. Jim Duncan identified the neighbor as David Westerfield, a 49-year-old self-employed engineer and divorced father of two.

There are no other potential suspects in the disappearance of Danielle van Dam, at least "not at this point," Duncan said. Police said the parents, Damon and Brenda van Dam, have been ruled out as suspects, along with several relatives, friends and associates.

Damon and Brenda van Dam
Damon and Brenda van Dam  

Danielle was reported missing from her family's San Diego home February 2, after her mother went to wake her in her second-floor bedroom and discovered she was not there. Police are calling the disappearance the result of a kidnapping.

"I was happy to take the lie detector test," Brenda van Dam said recently. "I knew we would pass and that would keep the focus on finding Danielle."

Police say Westerfield came under scrutiny after leaving for a weekend in the desert, 80 miles east of San Diego, the day Danielle turned up missing.

Police say Westerfield has been cooperative and has been questioned by police and had his home searched, as well as two vehicles impounded. A car has been returned and a motor home is still being tested by police.

He has denied any knowledge of the case and said early on that he did not know the girl. The child's parents say they hardly know Westerfield either.

Westerfield's attorney has declined comment and has not returned calls to CNN.

Police executed a new search warrant for Westerfield's home Wednesday and spent several hours looking for possible evidence.

At the same time, another team of detectives searched the van Dams' house and came out carrying two large white fans and several large paper bags of items they hope will reveal a kidnapper's fingerprint. They also used a bloodhound named "Maggie Mae" to identify the missing girl's scent on items in the house.

Asked at a recent news conference if Westerfield was still considered a potential suspect, Duncan said, "He's still a potential suspect, Yes he is." Asked if there were other potential suspects, the officer said, "Not at this point ... Just one."

Westerfield has said he had drinks with Brenda van Dam at a bar the night before Danielle vanished. He said he danced with Brenda. She said they didn't.

"I didn't plan to meet her there," Westerfield said. "She was with two of her friends, girlfriends, having a good time, just playing pool with people and joking around."

Brenda called it a girls' night out with two friends. Her husband was home watching Danielle and their two sons. He said he put Danielle to bed at 10 p.m.

The parents are offering a $25,000 reward for "legitimate information" leading to the safe return of their daughter. A local bail bondsman added $50,000 to the reward. There have been more than 250 tips and no imminent arrests.

"We're hoping and praying that this will motivate someone to come forward," said Brenda van Dam, speaking outside the family's home. She said the reward money came from family funds.

CNN has also learned that police are taking fiber samples from carpets and clothes in the van Dam home for any future matching.

"Progress is slow," said Duncan. "It has to do with our lab analysis. You can't rush those things."

More than 200 volunteers joined investigators last weekend in a search through about 25 square miles of canyons, coastal hills and ravines in a mountainous region and the desert, but found no trace of the girl. The van Dams hope volunteers will continue searching this weekend.




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