James Lee DiMaggio and Hannah Anderson
08/11/2013 AT 06:30 PM EDT
It was his tip that ultimately led the FBI to the campsite where James DiMaggio was killed and Hannah Anderson rescued
Recalling how he first alerted state police after his group, on horseback, encountered DiMaggio and Anderson in rugged backcountry on Wednesday, Mark John, a retired Gem County, Idaho, sheriff, conceded it was his wife who intuited that the girl might be in trouble.
"You know, when we were on the lake, my wife wanted to talk to the girl … she felt something might be wrong, and I said, 'No, it might be a lovers' quarrel,' " John told reporters on Sunday.
He and his wife noted that, as they rode away from seeing the couple, Hannah said aloud to herself, "Looks like we're in real trouble now."
The other woman in the group on horseback said she, too, sensed that the 16-year-old – who was wearing a sweatshirt, sweatpants or pajama bottoms and tennis sneakers – was upset over something.
"She did appear frightened, but I thought it was fear of the horses," said Mary Young, of Sweet, Idaho.
She said Hannah didn't want to talk, but DiMaggio was somewhat friendly.
"He says, 'That's the way to travel in this area – on horseback,'" Young recalled.
The group didn't realize until they watched the TV news when they got home that they'd spotted a fugitive sought across the Western states
on suspicion of murdering the girl's mother and brother near San Diego.
"When we put the connection together and realized it was possibly her, we didn't know 100 percent for sure, we were worried we were sending these people out on a wild-goose chase," John told reporters.
"But when they found [his] car
the next morning, we knew we'd done the right thing."
John said he has wondered what would have happened if they had approached DiMaggio with more questions at the time of their encounter, noting that everyone in his group on horseback was armed.
"He might have got one of us, but we would have gotten him," said John, also a former Army Ranger.