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Missing girl's neighbor arrested in disappearance case

Westerfield is a neighbor of the missing girl.
Westerfield is a neighbor of the missing girl.  

SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- Police on Friday arrested a neighbor in the kidnapping and disappearance of Danielle van Dam, the 7-year-old girl who was abducted from her bedroom nearly three weeks ago and has not been found.

David Westerfield, 49, a divorced self-employed engineer with two children, was taken into custody shortly after DNA test results showed Danielle's blood on an article of his clothing and in his motor home and other "DNA evidence" on an article of Danielle's clothing in her bedroom.

"We believe, without a question, that the DNA evidence links Mr. Westerfield to Danielle's disappearance," San Diego Police Chief David Bejarano said. "I can't stress enough how strong that link is."

The suspect faces arraignment Tuesday on a charge of kidnapping, Bejarano said, and other charges are possible.

San Diego police arrested a neighbor of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam, abducted three weeks ago from her home. CNN's Eric Horng reports (February 22)

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Shortly after Westerfield was led away, Brenda van Dam, Danielle's mother, told reporters, "We are very happy that the police made the arrest."

"We were forewarned that it was going to happen, but the fact remains that we don't have our daughter. We need to continue to search for Danielle," she said. 'That's the most important thing here."

"We need Danielle back," said Danielle's father, Damon van Dam. "That's what we need to help."

In recent days, police had kept Westerfield under 24-hour surveillance. He was identified early in the investigation as a "potential suspect" and has cooperated with police.

"We wanted to make the arrest as soon as possible after we received the final piece of DNA analysis," Bejarano said.

Danielle van Dam
Danielle van Dam  

Westerfield's attorney, Steven Feldman, promised his client would offer a "vigorous defense" to the charges.

"We have been provided with no evidence by law enforcement about this case," Feldman said.

Westerfield was arrested at 10:45 a.m. (1:45 p.m. EST) outside his lawyer's office. Wearing a gray shirt and black pants, the goateed, balding suspect put up no resistance as his hands were cuffed behind his back and he was put into the back seat of a detectives' car.

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 missing.

Police say Westerfield came under scrutiny because he left for a weekend in the desert, 80 miles east of San Diego, on the day Danielle was reported missing. Dan Conklin, a tow truck operator from Glamis, California, told CNN he was called to tow Westerfield's motor home after it got stuck in sand that weekend not far from the Mexican border.

"He was in a big hurry to leave and wanted me to reassure him that I could pull him out," Conklin said.

Westerfield has been questioned by police, his home has been searched and two of his vehicles impounded. He has denied knowledge in the case, saying early on, "I don't know the girl." The girl's parents say they hardly know him either.

Westerfield said he had drinks with Brenda van Dam at a bar the night before Danielle vanished. He said they danced together; 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, who said he was home watching Danielle and their two sons, told police 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 nearly 600 tips.

Police had taken fiber samples from carpets and clothes in the Van Dam home for DNA matching.

Police said they are not aware of any motive.




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