SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA, DANIELLE VAN DAM, KIDNAPPING, CHILDREN

The Danielle van Dam case has reached a sad climax. Police tonight confirmed that a body found by volunteers in a trash-strewn area about 25 feet off a well-traveled road east of San Diego was indeed that of the 7-year-old kidnapped from her suburban bedroom three weeks ago.

"We have confirmed that in fact it is the body of Danielle van Dam," San Diego District Attorney Paul Pfingst said at a press conference on Thursday. The missing girl was identified by her dental records. Due to the decomposed state of the partially-burned body, police said they had not yet determined the cause of her death.

On Tuesday—a day before the body was found—David Westerfield, one of the child's neighbors, pleaded not guilty to murder with special circumstances, kidnapping and possession of child pornography. The murder charge means he could face the death penalty if he is convicted, but prosecutors say they'll decide later whether to ask for Westerfield's execution.

San Diego Police Chief David Bejarano spoke to NEWSWEEK's Jamie Reno about the investigation shortly before the body was identified. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: Where does the investigation currently stand?

David Bejarano: We are continuing to look at all the evidence in this case and are working with the medical examiner to identify the body. When the searchers first notified the Sheriff's Department that they had discovered a body [on Wednesday], the [department] then immediately contacted us, and we had out people at the scene within a few minutes. Our homicide investigators were there until past midnight last night, at which time we released the body to the medical examiner's office.

With a body discovered and a suspect in custody, what role do police have at this point in the investigation?

This investigation is far from over, from our standpoint. We're still following up on approximately 500 tips we have received. Each tip has to be looked at. And we have more than 100 pieces of evidence we have to study. There's still a lot of police work to be done.

Regarding the evidence, how much blood was found in David Westerfield's recreational vehicle and on his clothing?

Small traces of blood were found. But that's about all I can say about the evidence at this time.

In the warrant to search Westerfield's home, you were looking for very specific things, including child pornography. What led you to believe that Westerfield was in possession of such materials? Did you receive a tip from the van Dams or from someone else that he may have had child porn in his home?

We can't tell you why we were looking for pornography.

Is it common for police to list pornography on a search warrant in a child abduction case?

Yes, I think it is fair to say that in these kinds of child abduction cases, child pornography is commonly involved.

Have you yet recovered any evidence from the dry cleaners that Westerfield may have used for his bedding and clothing the weekend Danielle disappeared?

Again, we can't comment on the evidence at this time, I'm sorry.

Why did Westerfield apparently go to the beach before heading to the desert on the weekend of Danielle's disappearance?

We do believe he went to the Strand State Beach in Coronado first, then headed east to the desert area near Glamis, but we are not currently discussing any possible motives for his actions.

Would you say the location of the body on that road in Dehesa seems to be consistent with Westerfield's actions and whereabouts that weekend?

That road isn't a direct route to the desert, but it certainly is an indirect route, a back way.

Do investigators have any idea yet why Westerfield would have committed such a crime? Can you comment at all on the rumors that Westerfield may have been turned down from what was said to be the van Dams' "swinger" circle, or that he had been shunned by Brenda van Dam in the bar that night?

We're not discussing motive or rumors.

Is it true that investigators brought this case to the San Diego District Attorney twice and were told to go back and get more evidence?

We can't comment.

Can you tell me whether Westerfield had his recreational vehicle steam-cleaned and his clothes laundered after he returned from the desert?

We can't comment.

How about other aspects of the investigation, including all the materials removed from Westerfield's house?

We can't comment.

How helpful were Westerfield's cell phone records in this investigation?

In any investigation of this magnitude, cell phones are checked. It's a very common and effective tool these days to see who he was calling and from where he was calling.

Can you describe how this investigation was mapped out by police from the beginning?

I can't describe too many details because the investigation isn't over, but I will say that in my 23 years in law enforcement, I have rarely seen anything like this investigation. It's not unprecedented for police to have a 24-hour surveillance of a suspect. But it is very rare for police to have a 24-hour surveillance on a suspect for three straight weeks. Typically, in a long-term investigation, there are breaks along the way. There are days on and days off, as far as surveillance. This is one of the longest and largest continuing investigations I have been a part of, and it isn't over yet.

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA, DANIELLE VAN DAM, KIDNAPPING, CHILDREN | News