Horseback riders who found Hannah say it was 'one chance in a trillion'

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By Alastair Jamieson and Tracy Connor, NBC News

Teenager Hannah Anderson appeared frightened and hid her face when she and kidnapping suspect James Lee DiMaggio were spotted in the Idaho backcountry three days before authorities rescued her and killed him.

Two pistol-packing couples were traveling in the wilderness on horseback when they encountered the 16-year-old girl and the 40-year-old man, who is suspected of killing her mother and brother outside San Diego a week ago.

“She kinda had a scared look on her face. I just had a gut feeling about him,” Mike Young, who owns a ranch in Sweet, Idaho, said at a Sunday afternoon press conference.

“They weren’t friendly, and they didn’t talk,” said Mark John, a rancher and ex-sheriff.

The pair were first seen on a trail — and then later at the lake, where one of the horseback riders cautioned Hannah about dipping her bare feet in the fish-filled water.

"Looks like we're all in trouble now," the teen said cryptically to herself as Young, John and their wives headed away from the lake and back to the trail, according to John.

That was Wednesday morning, and it wasn’t until the Youngs and Johns got home Thursday night that they learned an Amber Alert had been issued for Hannah and DiMaggio and called law enforcement.

The sighting — which one of the riders described as "one chance in a trillion" — led authorities to DiMaggio’s car on Friday and to his campsite on Saturday. He was killed during a rescue attempt, and Hannah was reunited with her father Sunday, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Her relatives said they were waiting to learn the details of Hannah's six-day ordeal.

“We don’t know what she saw or heard. Hannah is the only person who knows what happened that night,” grandfather Ralph Britt said on TODAY.

Officials suspect that DiMaggio set fire to his own house last Sunday, killing Hannah's 8-year-old brother, Ethan, and their mother, Christina Anderson, 44.

They suspect he then kidnapped Hannah, setting off a search that expanded to Canada and Mexico and triggered Amber Alerts in several states.

The Youngs and the Johns were unaware of the manhunt when they decided to go fishing last week, setting up camp in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.

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Mike and Mary Young were the first to see Hannah and DiMaggio, and they said several things struck them as strange.

The pair had set up a two-person tent on a ridge that had no water access and was unprotected. DiMaggio said he was headed for Salmon River, but he was going in the wrong direction. The teen was wearing what looked like pajama pants, not suited for the rugged terrain.

"She was trying to turn her face away," Mike Young said.

When the riders first came upon the duo, Hannah and DiMaggio were around 10 feet apart, but he quickly closed the gap and put his arm around her waist.

"She did appear frightened, but I thought it was fear of the horses," Mary Young said.

The Youngs met up with the Johns and headed for the lake, where Hannah and DiMaggio suddenly appeared. The couples tried to make small talk but got little information about what they were doing in the area.

"Last year it was her turn to pick a place, and she wanted to go to Los Angeles and Hollywood," DiMaggio said, referring to a previous road trip with Hannah. "That's why I picked this place."

The riders said that Hannah did not give them any signal she needed help and they thought DiMaggio might be her father. Despite the red flags, they didn't detect any danger or see any weapons.

All four were carrying guns.

"He might have got one of us, but we woulda got him," Mark John said.

He said when he saw the Amber Alert on TV the next night, he instantly recognized Hannah and called a friend with the Idaho State Police.

DiMaggio’s car, a Nissan Versa, was found covered with brush and without license plates the next day. With air support and on horseback, investigators scoured the isolated area and figured out where he was holed up.

The rescue was "very challenging,” Ada County, Idaho, sheriff’s spokeswoman Andrea Dearden said Sunday.

She told TODAY that agents were forced to land a two-and-a-half-hour hike away from where the pair's campsite had been spotted in order to secure the girl’s safety.

She declined to discuss details of the operation or whether DiMaggio had fired at agents, saying that a review team would investigate the suspect's death.

“Hannah is safe, and that was our first priority from the very beginning,” said Valley County Sheriff Patty Bolen at a press conference Saturday. 

Hannah's father, Brett Anderson, was "elated" his daughter was found alive, San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore said.

When law-enforcement told him Hannah was safe, he called the Britts and told them to come over. They made the long drive not knowing whether they would get the best or worst news.

"He said Hannah was safe and Jim was dead — then hugs, joy. We were so happy," Ralph Britt said.

Sheriff's officials told NBC San Diego that Christina Anderson, recently separated from her husband, had a “close platonic relationship” with DiMaggio. He had an “unusual infatuation” with Hannah, they said.

Ralph Britt said the family had known DiMaggio for years and never had any inkling that he could pose a threat.

"It was just a complete shock. He was Uncle Jim," he said. "We’ve known him for years. … Let it serve as a warning, that’s all we can say."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.