Elizabeth Smart Vanished June 5, 2002
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Elizabeth Smart, the 15-year-old girl who
vanished from her bedroom nine months ago, was found alive Wednesday
in a Salt Lake City suburb with a drifter who had once done work at
the family's home, police said.
"Miracles do exist," said Tom Smart, the girl's uncle. He said
Elizabeth was in good condition and reuniting with jubilant relatives
at the Salt Lake City police department.
Elizabeth was wearing a wig when she was found with the drifter, a
man known as Emmanuel, and an unidentified woman, authorities said.
Relatives of the drifter, whose real name is Brian Mitchell, have
described him as a self-appointed prophet for the homeless.
A Salt Lake City police spokesman said the group was discovered
standing along a road.
Mitchell was in custody at the Sandy police station.
A celebration erupted in front of the Smarts' home, with neighbors
and members of the family's Mormon ward holding blue and yellow
"I'm just overwhelmed. I just couldn't be more happy," said neighbor
Charlotte Hamblin, 62.
Elizabeth disappeared last June, part of a frightening string of
incidents involving children that included the slayings of 7-year-old
Danielle van Dam of San Diego and 5-year-old Samantha Runnion of
Orange County, Calif.
A month ago, the Smarts held a news conference where they released a
sketch of Mitchell, who did work at their home in November 2001. As
recently as Tuesday, the family openly criticized police for not
devoting enough attention to the former handyman.
Mitchell's sister called authorities with his identity after the
family's Feb. 3 news conference. The man's stepson, Mark Thompson,
gave investigators photos of Mitchell and said his stepfather was
"capable" of kidnapping a child.
He also said Mitchell believes he is a prophet who needs to preach to
the homeless and has no source of income other than handouts.
Elizabeth was 14 when she vanished early on the morning of June 5.
Her 9-year-old sister, Mary Katherine, said Elizabeth was taken by a
man who may have gotten into the house by cutting a window screen
near the back door. The sister pretended to be asleep, and she said
the gunman threatened to hurt Elizabeth if she didn't keep quiet.
The top potential suspect, Richard Ricci, a handyman who once worked
in the Smart household, died Aug. 30 after suffering a cerebral
hemorrhage while in prison on a parole violation. He said he had
nothing to do with the kidnapping.
Investigators have said they believe Ricci was involved but may not
have acted alone.
Last month, Elizabeth's parents said Mary Katharine had come to them
recently to say Emmanuel bore some resemblance to the kidnapper. This
week, they chastised police for not going after Mitchell.
"They should have caught this guy by now," said Tom Smart. "The
police are too vested in Ricci."
Elizabeth's father, Ed, was less harsh but expressed his
"frustration" at public statements made by police dismissing Mitchell
as a potential suspect.
Police said they followed up more than 16,000 leads from the public
in addition to those they came up with themselves.
Over the summer, the Smarts held twice-daily news briefings and
thousands of volunteers combed the foothills of Salt Lake City,
searching under brush for any sign of the blonde girl.
The family often got calls from the police alerting them to grisly
discoveries that might be linked to their missing daughter; they
wanted the Smarts to know before the story hit the news.
Sometimes, the news beat the police. Hands and feet had been found in
a canyon, or bones had been discovered in the desert. The Smarts
would call police to ask if it was Elizabeth. Every time, the answer
Children's advocates were elated by the good news.
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"We are very, very relieved," said Marilyn Ward, director of Child
Search, a national missing children center based in Houston. "This
should help the cause of missing children everywhere. We are thankful
she's alive. It gives hope to people to never give up."