By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A child-abduction alert was issued in Nevada on Thursday in the search for two Southern California siblings missing since their mother was found slain in the burned out home of a family friend suspected of killing her.
The notice in Nevada, following similar alerts issued earlier this week in California, Oregon and Washington state, came as authorities escalated their manhunt for the suspect, 40-year-old James Lee DiMaggio.
He is wanted in the killing of Christina Anderson, 44, and in the disappearance of her two children, 16-year-old Hannah and 8-year-old Ethan, all of whom were last seen on Saturday. Authorities have not revealed how the mother was killed.
Her body was found on Sunday night inside DiMaggio's burned-out backcountry home in the eastern San Diego County community of Boulevard, not far from the California-Mexican border, along with the badly burned remains of an unidentified child.
Authorities have said the child's body may be that of Ethan Anderson but it will take more time for medical examiners to make a positive identification.
In the meantime, the children's father, Brett Anderson, who now lives in Tennessee, has said he presumes the body is that of his son, though investigators said they have yet to rule out the possibility that DiMaggio has abducted both Anderson children.
The father, who made a televised plea to DiMaggio earlier this week to let his daughter go, described Hannah and Ethan in a CNN interview on Thursday as loving, outgoing children who were active in school and sports.
"There's nothing bad to say about my kids. They never did anything to anybody. They were always wonderful. We were pretty tight knit, even though I was a couple thousand miles away," he said.
Asked about DiMaggio, an information technology worker and longtime family friend who was said to have been like an uncle to the children, Anderson said, "I can't fathom what happened in Jim's head, what happened. He obviously lost it."
An alert was issued in California on Monday for both children, and authorities said DiMaggio was initially believed to be headed by car for Texas or Canada.
Subsequent alerts were issued on Wednesday in Oregon and Washington state after a car matching the description of the vehicle DiMaggio was believed to be driving was spotted headed northbound in northern California near the Oregon border.
It was not immediately clear what prompted the latest alert in Nevada.
On Wednesday, sheriff's Lieutenant Glenn Giannantonio, a homicide detective, said investigators had no clue as to the suspect's intended destination. He said FBI agents have joined in the search and that Mexican law enforcement authorities and the U.S. Border Patrol were on the lookout for DiMaggio.
Authorities said it was possible that DiMaggio could be camping out in a rural area near his home.
"As we've said all along - he could be in Mexico, he could be in Canada or he could be a mile away," sheriff's spokeswoman Jan Caldwell said.
Authorities have said they have no evidence of a precipitating incident or circumstances that might have led to the crimes DiMaggio is suspected of committing.
(Reporting and writing by Steve Gorman; additional reporting by Marty Graham in San Diego; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Andrew Hay)