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By Doug Stanglin and Michael Winter
USA TODAY

Friends of a missing California teenager say the 40-year-old man wanted for the suspected murder of her mother and possibly her brother had a crush on the girl.

James Lee DiMaggio is the subject of a nationwide manhunt after the bodies of 44-year-old Christina Anderson and an unidentified child were found Sunday night in his burning house in Boulevard, Calif., 50 miles east of San Diego. DiMaggio was a close friend of the family and known as "Uncle Jim."

The California Highway Patrol has issued a statewide Amber Alert for Anderson's 16-year-old daughter, Hannah, and her 8-year-old son, Ethan, who are missing. Authorities are still determining whether the second body found in the ashes of the home, about five miles from the Mexican border, is the boy's or another child.

The Texas-born DiMaggio is wanted on suspicion of murder and arson in a search that began in Southern California and has spread to Mexico and neighboring states.

The CHP said DiMaggio is believed to be driving a blue, four-door Nissan Versa and headed to Texas or Canada. The initial San Diego CountyAmber Alertwas upgraded Monday night, using the statewide cellphone network for thefirst time.

Brett Anderson, Anderson's husband and the children's father, flew from Tennessee to San Diego on Tuesday andpleadedwith DiMaggio to release his daughter, saying, "You've taken everything else."

"Jim, I can't fathom what you were thinking. The damage is done," he said Tuesday night outside San Diego County Sheriff's Department headquarters after being interviewed by investigators.

He also appealed to Hannah, saying he loves her very much and "if you have a chance, you take it. You run. You'll be found."

Authorities said DiMaggio had a "close platonic relationship" with Christina Anderson, according to theLos Angeles Times.

Her father, Christopher Saincome, said he had seen DiMaggio two or three times and described him as a good friend of his son-in-law.

DiMaggio was like family to the children, who called him "Uncle Jim." But Hannah's friends said he had recently expressed different feelings for the teen.

"He said he had a crush on her, but didn't mean it in an intimate way," 15-year-old " Marissa Chavez, 15,toldU-T San Diego. "He said, 'If I was your age, I'd date you.'"

The comment made the girls uneasy, Marissa added.

She said DiMaggio took Hannah to Hollywood for a weeklong "Sweet 16" birthday celebration. The trip was cut short, however, because DiMaggio became upset about the amount of time Hannah spent on her cellphone.

"After that she never responded to his texts and emails," Marissa told the San Diego paper.

The mother of two other friends of Hannah'sshareda similar story with KGTV-TV.

"I know Hannah did say she was a little creeped out when Jim did tell her he had a crush on her," said Angelina Amati, whose two daughters informed her only after the Amber Alert was issued.

Her daughter Cheyenne said that after DiMaggio expressed his feelings, Hannah "wouldn't go up there anymore because it was just too awkward between them." She added, however, that did not appear to fear him.

Asked whether Hannah might have been involved romantically with DiMaggio, sheriff's Lt. Glenn Giannantonio said investigators had "no solid information related to that."

Hannah Anderson was a gymnast on her high school team who liked to dance and made friends easily.

"You would never see her without a smile on her face," said Marlee Friszell, 16, who attended Hannah's birthday party last week.

Ethan Anderson liked to play football and baseball and go fishing, said Cyrus Dawn, 17, a longtime neighbor.

An autopsy was performed Tuesday on the charred remains of the child found in DiMaggio's home, but no positive identification was made, said Giannantonio. DNA test results are expected in two to three days.

"It is a possibility that it's Ethan," he said. "Right now we just don't know. And we're praying that it isn't Ethan."

DiMaggio's uncle in Idaho described his nephew, who worked in technical support at the the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, as "always a kind and gentle person."

But Amati told KGTV-TV that DiMaggio was about to lose his home and may have been depressed.

U-T San Diegowritesthat DiMaggio's Facebook page "reveals a man who might be lonely but values friendship, has a sense of humor and appreciates self-improving concepts either for himself or others."

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