The family of a young murder victim celebrated her life Tuesday, though she’s been gone more than 13 years.
A video her mother shared with 10News gives us a glimpse into the personality of Danielle van Dam; you see a huge smile. She was a charmer.
Brenda van Dam smiled as she said, "She was very much like me; a social butterfly."
But in January, 2002, Danielle disappeared; the 7-year-old was stolen from her bedroom.
A desperate search was launched and her body was found almost a month later under a tree in the east county.
Police arrested the van Dam’s neighbor, David Westerfield. He was tried and convicted of Danielle's kidnapping and murder later that year. He now sits on death row at San Quentin prison.
Brenda van Dam wastes no energy on her daughter's killer. "I don't want to think about him. No."
We met at a mini-park in Sabre Springs, near where they once lived.
"Today is Danielle's 21st birthday and we've always celebrated on her birthday; celebrated her life."
She briefly struggled with her emotions as we spoke. "It's emotional. I avoid this place. But today, speaking to you here in the park…There's a tree her Brownie troop planted for her years ago."
Younger brother Dylan is 19 now; he recalls good times. "We liked playing games together. Doctor, school. She always wanted to be the teacher."
Brenda thinks that’s what Danielle would have chosen as a career—teaching.