Volunteers sought to find Danielle

February 14, 2002|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

The San Diego Police Department may have concluded its search efforts in the Imperial Valley for a missing San Diego girl but another organization is ready to take up the desert search.

On Saturday, as thousands of off-road enthusiasts gather in the Imperial Valley for the Presidents' Day weekend, the American Sand Association will conduct a search for 7-year-old Danielle van Dam, last seen Feb. 1.

The nonprofit organization is seeking 400 volunteers to aid in that search, which will focus on the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area.

Vicki Warren, a spokeswoman for the group, said the ASA put out the call for volunteers Tuesday night and by Wednesday about 150 people had said they would take part in the search. Warren said more people are needed.


"We hope to be the eyes and ears of people who cannot be out there," said Warren, speaking of police who are continuing to follow leads in their effort to find Danielle but who say the search is going slowly.

"It's a monumental effort to search such areas," Warren said of the Imperial Valley desert.

She added the ASA knows the desert and for that reason it is important that the organization try to help the police.

While she declined to say where the search will be conducted, she did say there will be a staging area at Wash 15 on Wash Road off Highway 78.

The first search will start at 11 a.m. and a second search will start at 2 p.m. Warren said more searches could be done over the weekend and beyond if it is deemed necessary.

The ASA is conducting the search after being contacted by an organization called Laura Recovery Center Foundation, a group that has taken an active role in the Danielle case.

San Diego police investigators joined by the Imperial County Sheriff's Office and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management searched the east and west desert areas of Imperial County last week, one day both by land and air and a second day by air only.

The search turned to the Valley as investigators focused on a neighbor of Danielle's family. David Westerfield has been interviewed by authorities, who have said he is a possible suspect. He has not been arrested.

Westerfield was in the Imperial Valley on Feb. 3, two days after Danielle was last seen at home. Last week Westerfield voluntarily brought San Diego authorities to the Valley to show them the areas where he told them he had been. Investigators returned to the Valley on their own to search the Glamis area and the west desert.

They reported no clues were found, and as of Wednesday, the San Diego police press office stated there were no immediate plans to return to the Valley.

However, authorities said they are keeping open all options in regard to the search.

They said they support volunteers aiding in the search.

San Diego police spokesman David Cohen said the Imperial Valley desert is large and police appreciate the support of those who wish to continue to search.

Warren said anyone who wishes to contact her about the search can call (909) 738-9047 or check the ASA's Web site at

In San Diego, police again have turned to Westerfield, conducting a new search of his home.

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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