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AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Police Believe 7-Year-Old Taken From Home Over Weekend

Aired February 7, 2002 - 07:18   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Now to the very latest on the search for a missing girl in San Diego. Police believe that 7-year-old Danielle van Dam was taken from her home over the weekend. They are treating it as a kidnapping and say one of the family's neighbors is "a potential suspect."

Last night Danielle's parents told Larry King they believe there was a breach into their home around the time Danielle disappeared.

And Brenda and Damon van Dam join us now from San Diego. Thank you very much for joining us. I know it is very, very early there in San Diego.

I wanted to start off by talking this morning about the lie detector tests both of you were asked to take. The results are in. Both of you passed. Tell us a little bit of what that was like to be subjected to that test at a time when the search is on for your missing daughter.

BRENDA VAN DAM, DANIELLE'S MOTHER: I personally was very happy to take it because I knew that we would pass it and I knew it would take the focus off of us and put the focus on finding our daughter.

ZAHN: And Damon, I know we have heard so much from America's Most Wanted, John Walsh, who talks about the presumption that police have to make initially in investigation that a parent might have been involved. Did you feel that presumption was being made as you took this test?

DAMON VAN DAM, DANIELLE'S FATHER: Yes, I did. I fully expected it and just like Brenda, you know, I was happy to do it and be done with it so they could move on and find whoever took her, find her.

ZAHN: And now, even though police are saying there are a few clues and this case is very mysterious, they are now pointing to one of your neighbors as a potential suspect. What can you tell us about this man that doesn't live too far away from you?

DAMON VAN DAM: He's an acquaintance. You know, he lives two doors down. We've talked to him casually for a few minutes a couple years ago and we wave to him. He seems nice enough. He smiles and waves as we drive by. But beyond that, we don't know much. I mean Brenda's seen him at the cafe she went to, but that's all. ZAHN: Brenda, were you surprised to hear he was a suspect? Because police are also saying he's been quite cooperative. He has told police that he was out of town that weekend during the abduction of your daughter and didn't return to town on Monday. Were you surprised to hear police were looking at him?

BRENDA VAN DAM: Yes, I was surprised. I feel that we live in a safe neighborhood and you don't expect things like this to happen.

ZAHN: Tell us a little bit about what happened Saturday night. I know, Brenda, you were out, and Damon, you were at home with your three children. At what point did you realize there might have been some kind of security breach in your home?

BRENDA VAN DAM: Can I actually make, can I make a correction here?

ZAHN: Sure.

BRENDA VAN DAM: It was Friday night, not Saturday night.

ZAHN: Friday night, excuse me. You're absolutely right.

BRENDA VAN DAM: And that's OK. And...

DAMON VAN DAM: We can't go into details about...

BRENDA VAN DAM: We go into details.

DAMON VAN DAM: ... about when at all, but when we started looking for her, you know, it came up and we told police right away.

ZAHN: Did you indicate to them that night that you thought someone had broken into the home or it wasn't until the next morning?

DAMON VAN DAM: The next morning we called police and started searching for her.

BRENDA VAN DAM: Immediately, and started searching for her.

ZAHN: I know the police have made it very clear that these days, the initial days after someone's abduction are critical in trying to find those that are kidnapped. What kind of information is really important for the audience to know about Danielle? What she looks like, what she acts like.

DAMON VAN DAM: There's video on what she acts like and what she looks like. The one thing, in all the videos her hair is longer. She had her hair cut a couple days before this happened and this is the only photo of her with shorter hair. But we've got the video of how she looks, of how she acts and how she sounds when she speaks. The more of that that gets played the better. We've got her pajamas here. I think it's important if anybody sees anyone they think looks like her or sees any pajamas like these anywhere, you know, we want our daughter back is all we want. That's our focus. And, you know, if anybody thinks they see anything, call any of the numbers, go to the Web site. You don't have to call the police. You can call 1-800- THELOST or you can call an 800 number that's been set up for us. We just want any tip. We know something's going to lead us to her.

BRENDA VAN DAM: I'd like to make a point where the most important thing that anyone can do for us is to get this picture out there to as many people as you know across the country. Print out her, go to her Web site, print out her poster and send it to whoever you know.

DAMON VAN DAM: Call your friends anywhere and ask them to put up posters in their town, along the highways in their town.

BRENDA VAN DAM: The more that we get this beautiful face out, the better chance we have of finding her.

ZAHN: She is a beautiful girl and I know investigators are hopeful with the amount of attention this case is getting right now that you may get a break soon in this case.

Brenda and Damon van Dam, thank you very much for being with us. Our thoughts are with your family as you endure this nightmare.

DAMON VAN DAM: Thank you.

BRENDA VAN DAM: Thank you.

DAMON VAN DAM: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: All right, thank you both.

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