California issues Amber Alert on phones for 2 children after mother slain

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(CNN) — The aunt of two Southern California children who are missing after their mother was apparently killed told HLN Tuesday that the suspect in the case “seemed like a genuinely nice guy.”

A massive manhunt was under way for James DiMaggio, whom law enforcement authorities describe as a “platonic” friend of the deceased woman, Christina Anderson.

San Diego County Homicide Lt. Glenn Giannantonio told reporters Monday that deputies and fire personnel were called to the scene of a residence and detached garage on fire in the enclave of Boulevard around 8 p.m. Sunday.

While extinguishing the fire, personnel discovered the body of Anderson, 44, of Lakeside, California. They also recovered the body of a dog and the remains of a child at the scene. The child has not yet been identified.

“It has been determined that Ms. Anderson has been murdered,” Giannantonio said.

The whereabouts of Anderson’s children, Hannah, 16, and Ethan, 8, are unknown. Investigators believe they may be with DiMaggio, 40, the owner and sole resident of the burned home.

California authorities issued a statewide Amber Alert through residents’ cellphones — a first, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The Wireless Emergency Alert program was instituted in December 2012, and this case is the first time is has been used, CHP Public Information Officer Erin Komatsubara told HLN Tuesday.

On HLN’s Raising America Tuesday, the children’s aunt Andrea Saincome said that DiMaggio has known the family for years and that it would not have been unusual for the mother and children to be at his house.

“There was nothing out of the ordinary,” Saincome told HLN’s Christi Paul. “He seemed like a genuinely nice guy. He was close to the kids, and he was friends with my sister and my brother-in-law.”

Police believe the children were last seen with their mother in Boulevard on Saturday. They were reported missing by their grandparents on Sunday. Giannantonio said he did not know what led them to believe their grandchildren were missing.

According to Giannantonio, DiMaggio and Anderson had “a close, platonic relationship” and were not romantically involved.

Giannantonio would not release any details about how Anderson was killed, but he did say that arson investigators believe they know how the fire was started.

Authorities also found burned weapons in the residence, but Giannantonio did not disclose what those weapons were.

The sheriff’s office released several photos of DiMaggio, and Giannantonio said he is believed to be driving a blue, four-door Nissan Versa with California license plate 6WCU986.

The FBI is assisting with the investigation.

CNN reported that authorities believe DiMaggio may be headed toward Texas or Canada with one or both of Anderson’s children.

“We need the public’s help in locating these people,” Giannantonio said.

He also warned anyone who sees DiMaggio and the children that he may be dangerous and they should not approach him or attempt to detain him. Instead, they are advised to call 911.

A sheriff’s department spokesperson said Tuesday morning that no new information was available on the investigation. The California Highway Patrol Border Division referred questions to the sheriff’s department.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Detail at 858-974-2321 or submit an anonymous tip to Crime Stoppers at 888-580-8477.

By Steve Loiaconi

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