The saturation of news about the lifestyles of Brenda and Damon van Dam has not been lost on North County residents. While few can think of any friends who use recreational drugs and "swing" with other couples, most seem to believe that the parents' admitted drug use and the Friday-night partying gives them a share of the culpability for their daughter's death.
Joe Bernstein of Escondido believes that the van Dams' social life was possibly a factor in their daughter's kidnapping. "I've read and heard that they've had extracurricular activities as a couple. It could have been a situation of her turning down offers from the gentleman [David Westerfield] in question. There could have been some jealousy. It's possible, it's probable. I don't know anyone who takes recreational drugs or is involved in swinging. I think Child Protective Services should investigate them. They were probably too busy taking care of their own particular 'joys of life' to check on their kids that night. I think they'll probably find Westerfield guilty."
Another Escondido resident, Brenda Deal, immediately thinks of one thing when the van Dams are mentioned. "They're partiers. I probably know two people who use recreational drugs and zero who are swingers. Their partying definitely had something to do with Danielle's disappearance. When I'm at home at night, my child is in the same house as me. I check up on her, and I would not even think to go out and lock myself in the garage and do that kind of stuff without checking on my daughter. I don't think they are unfit parents, but I think they should change a little of their priorities. Honestly, I think they didn't check on their kids that night. Their only daughter was taken from them forever, and I would rather be dead than have that happen to me."
Amanda Arendt of Fallbrook finds the van Dams' social life "pretty controversial." "I feel really sorry for the parents, but at the same time I question their lifestyle. Personally, I couldn't do that to my kids. None of the people I know take recreational drugs or 'swing.' I'm sure that anything that influences your state of mind can lead to any act. If anybody you had a grudge against, or if there's, you know, any false doings against anybody else, there's just...I'm sure they'd want to take it out on them somehow. Children are a target that's close to home. I wouldn't investigate their fitness as parents, though. They're entitled to do what they want. Children go missing every day, and Child Protective Services doesn't investigate those parents. I have no idea why they didn't check on their children that night. Personally, I think it was stupidity. I would be kissing and hugging my daughter every night before I went to bed. Different people raise their kids different. I think a lot's going to come out in this trial -- a lot that the parents don't want to come out."
Bill Schlote has heard plenty about the case even though he lives in Sierra Madre. "I understand that she goes out on her own with some friends, apparently, but he stays at home with the kids. I don't know of anybody who uses recreational drugs, and I don't know anybody who's into swinging either. It's a possibility that their partying had something to do with the kidnapping. She apparently had seen their next-door neighbor, who allegedly committed this crime, numerous times. As far as investigating them as parents -- I think it's a little late for that. I don't know if everybody checks their children. Normally, when they tuck the children away, they probably get up once or twice a night to check on them, but that's kind of hard to say. Who really knows? You think you're in a safe neighborhood, and they apparently thought they were. It's difficult to say what's going to happen. The justice system has a lot of attorneys who do plea-bargaining, and too many people who get off of their crimes because of plea bargaining. They make a mockery of the system."
Angela Rhodes of Ramona has followed the case closely and has talked about it with her friends. "I've heard from a couple of different people. I heard [a] police officer...[who] was much more in depth than what was on the news. It's second-hand, and I don't want to repeat anything. But I expected a lot more to come out at the pretrial. I listened to quite a bit of it on the radio, and they just touched on [their lifestyle] compared to what I heard the officer had said. What I heard on the radio wasn't as much as the officer had said either.
"Personally, I have really mixed feelings. I'm pretty conservative, but people can do their own thing. I was surprised about the drugs. I can just see the type of women dancing together in the bar -- dancing together is one thing, but being as risqué as they were...it would disgust me if I saw them dancing in a bar. I know one person who I work with who is involved in swinging. But that's all I know. Based on what I heard from the pretrial stuff, they didn't even know Westerfield. He apparently seemed surprised that the dad was even home, because she had originally told him that the dad had taken the son. If he had been one of their partners or more involved in their life, then I would think the parents' lifestyle was a little to blame, but no, I don't believe so.
"As far as what I've heard of her as a mother, I think she sounds fine. Their son is getting a little older, so if they want to smoke pot in the garage, their son is going to understand that something funny is going on. If their children are unaware of the sexual things, that's okay, but if there are drugs and other things around the children, that's different. But it sounds as if it was not around the children. It also sounded like they didn't smoke pot that often in their garage. If my husband is home with my kids, I don't check them before I go to bed. Everyone is totally all over them for not checking on their kids, but their dad is their parent too, and he's just as responsible as the mother. If I have a baby-sitter, I go check on my kids. But if my husband's home, I don't necessarily go check on them unless there's a reason, like if they were sick. I certainly think they have the right person and I certainly hope...you know, O.J. got off, and it was shocking and amazing, so nothing would surprise me."