Brenda and Damon van Dam are living a parent’s worst nightmare.
Their neighbor, David Westerfield, 50, has been arrested and charged with the murder and abduction of their 7 year-old daughter, Danielle.
The blond haired, blue-eyed little girl has been missing since Feb. 2 after being abducted from her bedroom in her San Diego home. On Feb. 27, investigators found van Dam’s body at a spot 25 miles east of San Diego.
Before the body was found, officials had declared that she has been murdered. “I understand murder is a harsh word, but it is the correct charge in this case,” said District Attorney Paul Pfingst to the New York Times.
Pfingst told MSNBC that he had an emotional meeting with the van Dam’s prior to making the announcement of their daughter’s presumed death. The body was still in the process of being identified at that time.
“It was difficult to bring out the word ‘murder.’ Both parents were in tears,” he said.
“There are no words to express the anguish we feel. We miss Danielle desperately, and the pain of her absence is absolutely unbearable,” Danielle’s mother said in a statement to reporters from her home.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Westerfield came into suspicion when police noticed him excessively cleaning his RV, which he allegedly drove into the California desert for a two-day camping trip after Danielle was missing.
DNA testing on blood spots found in Westerfield’s RV and on a jacket came back positively matching Danielle’s.
San Diego Police Chief David Bejarano said to CNN, “We believe, without a question, that the DNA evidence links Mr. Westerfield to Danielle’s disappearance. I can’t stress how strong that link is.”
Westerfield is being held without bail, and has pleaded not guilty to the charges of murder, kidnapping, and possession of child pornography.
Under California law, prosecutors can seek the death penalty on Westerfield under the special circumstances that murder was committed during kidnapping.
Deputy District Attorney Jeff Dusek told the New York Times that he believed the case could have been won without the body. “You people make more of a deal out of a ‘no body’ case than we do,” he said. “Put your notebook down and be a real person for a minute. Do you think she’s dead? What more do I need?”
Defense attorney Steven Feldman asked that Superior Court Judge Peter C. Deddeh place a gag order on the case. He said that information reported to the public may effect Westerfield’s chances of gaining a fair trial.
The request was denied.