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FBI cleared in shooting death of California murder-kidnap suspect

James Lee DiMaggio is shown in this photo released to the media by the San Diego County Sheriff's Department August 6, 2013. REUTERS/San Die
James Lee DiMaggio is shown in this photo released to the media by the San Diego County Sheriff's Department August 6, 2013. REUTERS/San Die

By Laura Zuckerman

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - FBI agents who shot and killed a California murder suspect who abducted a teen-aged girl and fled to the Idaho wilderness used reasonable force to defend themselves against a fugitive who opened fire with his rifle, investigators said on Wednesday.

James Lee DiMaggio, 40, was shot multiple times in the rugged Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness as authorities sought to arrest him in August on murder and kidnapping charges stemming from the deaths of Christina Anderson, 44, and her 8-year-old son Ethan and the abduction of her daughter, Hannah, then 16.

The shooting by two FBI agents and a third agent's rescue of Hannah Anderson came after a national manhunt for DiMaggio led from his Southern California home to the central Idaho wilderness, where two couples on horseback encountered the pair at a lakeside campsite and alerted authorities.

An FBI hostage rescue team was dropped by helicopter within hiking distance of the forested campsite, where DiMaggio fired two rounds from a rifle.

Two agents in his firing line "believed DiMaggio was shooting toward them ... and returned fire, striking DiMaggio multiple times," according to the probe by federal prosecutors and Idaho law enforcement. A third agent rescued Anderson, who was nearby.

The agents "used reasonable force in defending themselves and/or another" and their actions did not violate any federal or state statutes, including an Idaho self-defense law that allows use of deadly force when a person reasonably believes himself to be in danger, investigators said.

The probe of the shooting involved infrared video recorded from an airplane that circled the back country campsite. The video showed the attempted arrest and Anderson's rescue and provided thermal imaging from the heat released from shots fired by DiMaggio and the federal agents.

DiMaggio, a telecommunications technician, bought camping equipment and other gear in the weeks leading up to his flight with Anderson in early August. He was suspected of setting his home on fire in the San Diego area community of Boulevard before fleeing with Anderson.

California authorities later found the bodies of her mother and brother at the home. DiMaggio was a longtime friend of the Anderson family.

The Idaho couples who encountered DiMaggio and Anderson in the 2.3 million acre wilderness said the pair aroused suspicion because they appeared ill-equipped for the roadless, mountainous terrain crisscrossed by sheer granite canyons and whitewater rapids.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Dan Grebler)

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