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Hannah Anderson Speaks Exclusively to NBC News on Rescue, Kidnapper

"In the beginning I was a victim, but now knowing everyone out there is helping me I consider myself a survivor instead," she told NBC News

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Hannah Anderson, the teenager who was kidnapped this month and found in the Idaho wilderness after being held hostage, considers herself a survivor.

    "In the beginning I was a victim, but now knowing everyone out there is helping me I consider myself a survivor instead," she said. "My mom raised me to be strong."

    Anderson spoke out on NBC's "Today" show Thursday on the deaths of her mother and brother and her abduction by a family friend.

    The 16-year-old Lakeside, Calif., resident said a lot of her friends "have my back" and offered explanation for the phone calls and text messages she exchanged with her kidnapper in the hours before the deaths of her mother Christina Anderson and brother Ethan Anderson.

    Officials: 16-year-old, Captor Spotted Early On

    Officials: 16-year-old, Captor Spotted Early On
    The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department is releasing information to explain to the public how it handled the rescue of 16-year-old Hannah Anderson. But in terms of the motive or other aspects of the case, the department will keep those details under wraps. NBC 7’s Rory Devine explains. (Published Monday, Aug 19, 2013)

    She said the 13 calls between her and captor James Lee DiMaggio on the day of her abduction -- as revealed by search warrants — weren't calls at all. They were texts because he was picking her up from cheerleading camp and she was telling him where to find her.

    “And he didn’t know the address or what — like, where I was," Hannah said.  "So I had to tell him the address and tell him that I was gonna be in the gym and not in front of the school. Just so he knew where to come get me.”

    Hannah Anderson Thanks Supporters at Car Wash

    [DGO] Hannah Anderson Thanks Supporters at Car Wash
    A car wash fundraiser was held at a church in Lakeside to benefit Hannah Anderson, 16, and her family. Hannah and her father, Brett Anderson, made a surprise drop-by at the event, thanking organizers for their love and support. NBC 7 captured the teen's first brief on-camera comments since her abduction. (Published Monday, Aug 19, 2013)

    San Diego County sheriff's investigators have said they won't reveal the contents of handwritten letters from Hannah that were found at the DiMaggio's home.

    Hannah said the letters she wrote to DiMaggio were from a year ago. She had a strained relationship with her mom at the time and he was helping her cope with it.

    “Me and him would talk about how to deal with it,” she said. “And I’d tell him how I felt about it. And he helped me through it. They weren’t anything bad. They’re just to help me through tough times.”

    Timeline: Searching for Hannah Anderson

    Hannah's brother Ethan and her mother Christina were found dead on Aug. 4 at the burned property of kidnap and murder suspect DiMaggio, 40, in the community of Boulevard, near San Diego.

    According to search warrants, investigators believe DiMaggio – a longtime friend of the Anderson family – “tortured and killed” Christina and Ethan.

    Hannah was overcome with emotion when talking about her brother. "He had a really big heart," she said, choking back tears.

    DiMaggio fled San Diego with Hannah, sparking an Amber Alert that spanned across six states. Hannah told the "Today" show that she didn't know there was a nationwide search for her and that she had never heard of an Amber Alert.

    “I know it helped people find me,” she said. “And it made them, like, realize that it’s hard to find people out there. But with everyone’s support, it can help a lot.”

    Hannah and DiMaggio ended up in the rugged Idaho backcountry near Cascade and Morehead Lake, where they were spotted by a group of horseback riders on Aug. 7.

    After seeing the Amber Alert, the riders reported the sighting to authorities, leading more than 200 federal, state and local law enforcement officials to the rural community in Idaho in search of Hannah and DiMaggio.

    The pair was ultimately found by an FBI tactical team near Morehead Lake on Aug. 10.

    Hannah was rescued safely by officials. DiMaggio was shot at least five times and killed at the scene.

    Hannah thanked the horsemen who tipped off authorities. "I'd like to say thank you because without them I'd probably never be here right now."

    She also thanked FBI agents, law enforcement, the news media and her friends and family.

    Hannah has since reunited with her family and returned home to San Diego. She said the ordeal brought her and her dad closer and that she's now leaning on him for support.

    Days after her rescue, the teen was fielding questions about her kidnapping on social media. Last week, she made her first public appearance since her rescue at the fundraiser in Lakeside.

    Some people were critical of her sharing photos and posts on Instagram and Facebook so soon after the rescue and called her behavior fishy. But Hannah said she's a teenager and that's how she stays connected to her friends.

    “I connect to them through Facebook, and Instagram is — it just helps me grieve, like, post pictures and to show how I’m feeling. And I’m a teenager. I’m gonna go on it.”

    "A lot of my friends have my back," she added.

    The teenager’s family has asked for privacy as Hannah continues to recover. She has since appeared at multiple fundraising events and thanked people for their support.

    Hannah's family sent a public statement about the "Today" show interview, asking people to respect their privacy as they prepare for the funerals of Christina and Ethan this weekend.

    Hannah told "Today" that she will never forget about what happened to her but hopes to move on with her life.

    “You are who you are,” she said. “And — you shouldn’t let people change that. And you have your own opinion on yourself, and other people’s opinion shouldn't matter.”

    Hannah said she decided to speak out about her ordeal to bring attention to Amber Alerts and to thank everyone involved in her rescue. But she said she is not ready yet to tell her entire story.

    “This was a hard time,” she said. “And there’s gonna be harder times in life. But if I could get through this, I’m sure I can get through a lot more."

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