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DNA leads to arrest in van Dam kidnapping

SAN DIEGO, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- David Westerfield was arrested on a single kidnapping charge Friday after San Diego police matched blood evidence with a DNA sample he had provided to them shortly after a 7-year-old gap-toothed neighbor girl disappeared from her home earlier this month.

Westerfield was arrested without incident in full view of television cameras late Friday morning as he tried to leave the driveway of his lawyer's office in the city's Hillcrest district. He was taken to police headquarters to face a charge that he allegedly kidnapped Danielle van Dam from her suburban home on Feb. 1.

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"Without question, based on this analysis, we are extremely confident of the DNA link based on the pieces of evidence we have," Police Chief David Bejarano told a news conference outside the downtown headquarters.

"Between the collection of an article of clothing from Danielle and the DNA evidence from Mr. Westerfield, I can't stress enough how strong that link is."

Westerfield was expected to be booked into San Diego County Jail later in the day after being questioned. Police had not established a motive for the alleged kidnapping.

Westerfield had been under 24-hour surveillance since shortly after Danielle vanished without a trace. The 50-year-old engineer came under suspicion early in the investigation, and detectives apparently only waited to arrest him because they wanted the lengthy DNA processing to be completed first.

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"We wanted to make an arrest as soon as possible, but we wanted to make sure that this investigation was done correctly from the beginning," Bejarano said. "We were waiting for that piece of evidence to provide that link."

Bejarano described the evidence as a small DNA sample found on an item of Danielle's clothing that allegedly matched Westerfield's DNA sample and blood evidence found in his motor home.

"We do have some blood stains that were discovered from Mr. Westerfield's article of clothing and his motor home, and ... we do have an article of clothing that we recovered from her bedroom that without question provides that DNA link between Mr. Westerfield and Danielle," the police chief said.

Westerfield had told investigators early on that he had driven his motor home into the Imperial County desert by himself the morning that Danielle was discovered missing and only several hours after he had seen Danielle's mother, Brenda van Dam, at a bar in nearby Poway.

The case took a lurid turn when media reports surfaced that Westerfield had a collection of child pornography in his house, and that the van Dams engaged in a "swinger" lifestyle that presumably allowed strangers into their garage that had been made into a rumpus room.

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Searchers have scoured the remote desert as well as the area around the subdivision of Sabre Springs for any sign of Danielle, and her parents said Friday that they hoped volunteers would continue to beat the bushes for their little girl.

"We are very happy the police made an arrest," Brenda van Dam told reporters outside the family home. "We were forewarned that it was going to happen, but the fact remains that we don't have our daughter."

Westerfield was not charged with murder Friday, and Bejarano pledged that his department would continue hunting for the missing child, although the chances of finding her alive were considered to be fading.

"As a father, I am optimistic that at some point we will find Danielle," the police chief said. "On the law enforcement side of it, we all know that the opportunity gets less and less every hour and every day that goes by."

The search, which has attracted nationwide attention and $185,000 in reward pledges, took investigators to Mexico on Thursday where a home in the Colonia Libertad district of Tijuana was searched by authorities acting on a tip from a resident who claimed she had seen an American girl matching Danielle's description at the home. No child was found at the home, however.

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Also on Thursday, more than 30 San Diego-based Marines spent their day off looking through brush and ditches in Poway.

(Reported by Hil Anderson in Los Angeles)

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