Anxiety mounts in home of 7-year-old San Diego girl missing since last week

Thursday, February 7th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ The bedroom walls are swathed in her favorite colors, pink with purple trim. A lacy white canopy covers the bed. A Barbie doll sits near a basket of stuffed animals.

But on the wall by the light switch lies inky smudges left by crime scene investigators while dusting for fingerprints _ a reminder of the mystery that surrounds the disappearance of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam.

``It's like we're in a fog of insanity,'' the girl's father, Damon van Dam, said Wednesday as he and his wife, Brenda, waited for news of their daughter with an increasing sense of dread.

Police believe the 4-foot-tall girl with shoulder-length blonde hair was abducted from her second-floor bedroom Friday night or Saturday morning. But despite an extensive search of surrounding streets and canyons, there's been no trace of her and no arrests in her disappearance.

``She could be anywhere right now,'' Brenda van Dam said.

While police disclosed little about an investigation that has focused on an adult neighbor, the van Dam household was a hub of with activity during the time the couple spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Phones rang. Family and friends came with news, videotapes of Danielle and baskets of flowers. On a wall, someone had placed a U.S. map bristling with pins in cities where volunteers have agreed to distribute flyers with Danielle's photo. Coordinating the search, the couple said, has helped them cope with the stress and horror of their daughter's disappearance.

``We're calling everybody we know and asking them to call everybody they know,'' said Damon van Dam, 37. ``We need to get flyers at every highway rest stop in the nation.''

Panic set in Saturday morning when Danielle's family realized she was missing. Damon and the couple's two boys, ages 5 and 9, watched cartoons while Brenda went to wake up her daughter.

The bed was empty.

The family tore through closets and searched the back yard. They fanned out across the neighborhood.

``I knew in my heart right away it was an abduction,'' the mother said

At first, authorities weren't so sure. Dozens of officers and volunteers joined the search for the second-grader, but the case wasn't classified as an abduction until Monday.

Police impounded two vehicles and other property from the home of the man who lives two doors down from the van Dams, but have not arrested him.

Danielle's parents said their daughter sold Girl Scout cookies to the man last year, but they only have a passing acquaintance with him and wouldn't comment on details of the investigation.

``He's an acquaintance. He's not a friend,'' the girl's father said Wednesday. ``We've seen him since we moved in. We wave to him, we say 'Hello' to him when we drive by.''

A private group, the Millennium Children's Fund of Beverly Hills, has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to Danielle's return.

Neighbors in the upper middle class neighborhood about 20 miles north of downtown San Diego are baffled.

``To be honest, I'm worried about my own kid,'' said Allen Beyge, the parent of a 5-year-old boy. ``I don't even have an alarm in my house. I thought this was a safe place.''

The van Dams, Florida natives who moved to San Diego four years ago so Damon, an engineer, could take a job at the wireless technology firm Qualcomm, also considered their neighborhood safe. But now, they don't know what to think.

``You see stuff like this on TV, but you never think about it happening to you,'' Damon van Dam said. ``When it does, it's worse than you can imagine. It's just awful.''