06/15/2002

Trail of Transient Sought in Abduction Leads Out of Utah

by Michael Janofsky, The New York Times

SALT LAKE CITY - A man wanted here for questioning in the abduction of Elizabeth Ann Smart may have fled to Texas and New Mexico in the last few days.

The authorities in Hereford, Tex., and Curry County, N.M., said today they received reports that the man, Bret Michael Edmunds, had passed through their communities in stolen cars. The Salt Lake City police said the journey probably began Sunday evening, after officers here spotted Mr. Edmunds at a vigil for the 14-year-old, who was taken at gunpoint from her bedroom on June 5.

Capt. Scott Atkinson of the Salt Lake City police said despite Mr. Edmunds's movements, investigators still do not believe he was involved in the abduction.

As volunteer search efforts of the region continued for a ninth day, he conceded that detectives still have neither a suspect nor any idea where the girl might be.

The interest in Mr. Edmunds grew out of a call to police last week by a milkman who said he saw a man driving slowly through the Smart family neighborhood several days before the abduction. By tracing a license plate, investigators were led to Mr. Edmunds, 26, whom they have described as an unemployed transient who lived out of cars and had outstanding arrest warrants for fraud and for assaulting a police officer.

When police officers identified him in the crowd at the vigil, Captain Atkinson said a decision was made not to approach him "for safety reasons." Instead, he said, officers followed him, and after Mr. Edmunds noticed them, he fled and was not pursued.

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