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ELIZABETH SMART CASE 'It is nothing but a miracle'



Published: Thu, March 13, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



Two couples recognized the suspect on a street in Sandy, Utah.

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Elizabeth Smart wore braids, a brown shirt and a big smile in her incredible return home, nine months after vanishing in the middle of the night from the bedroom where she was sleeping next to her younger sister.

Months of prayers were answered Wednesday when sharp-eyed residents led police to find the 15-year-old alive and healthy, walking down a suburban street with a drifter the sister had said, months earlier, could be the kidnapper.

As her tearful parents embraced their daughter, investigators booked the mysterious man and his wife for investigation of kidnapping and began trying to answer the questions on everyone's minds: How was Elizabeth taken? Where did she go? What kept her from crying out for help even as she roamed the streets just minutes from her home?

Smart family spokesman Chris Thomas said Elizabeth answered the last question herself: "She said there was no way, she had two people with her at all times."

Couple arrested

Police in the Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy arrested Brian Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, on Wednesday afternoon after getting calls a minute apart from two couples who saw a man and two females wearing bedraggled veils and carrying bedrolls and bags. Elizabeth, Barzee and Mitchell, who is also known as Emmanuel, were all wearing wigs when they were stopped, authorities said.

"I don't know what she's gone through," father Ed Smart said through tears Wednesday night, "and I'm sure she's been through hell."

Mitchell, a self-styled prophet for the homeless, and Barzee were taken to the Sandy police station and later booked into the Salt Lake County Jail for investigation of aggravated kidnapping. Mitchell, who had worked briefly at the Smarts' home, was also being held on an outstanding warrant for retail theft.

Rudy and Nancy Montoya had spotted Mitchell walking with two people in Sandy, and Rudy Montoya said he recognized the man from television reports. News programs had shown pictures of a man police were seeking in the kidnapping investigation.

Second call

The Montoyas called police just as Anita and Alvin Dickerson drove past the three, had the same thought about Mitchell and stopped their car. Anita said she walked up to the man and looked him in the eye.

"I knew it was him from the pictures I had seen on television," she said.

What she didn't realize was that the veiled person walking between the two adults was Elizabeth. "I thought she was an older lady wearing a scarf," Dickerson said.

Ed Smart received a call from Sandy police, telling him to drive to their headquarters without stopping. Minutes later, he and Elizabeth were reunited.

"All of the children out there deserve to come back to their parents the way Elizabeth has come back to us," he said, breaking into tears. "It is nothing but a miracle. I just held her, held her all the way home."

Elizabeth's uncle Dave Smart said she appeared well-fed. She was examined at a hospital and taken home. "We have Elizabeth, we have the person who took her," Dave Smart said. "You couldn't ask for any better closure than that."

Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse said investigators were convinced that Elizabeth was kidnapped. Asked whether he believed she was held against her will, Dinse said, "At this point, yes, I do."

Traveled

Police tried to piece together the events of the past nine months, with details emerging that she may have been as far away as California at times and as close as Salt Lake City.

Witnesses reported seeing Mitchell and two female companions at a San Diego County grocery store around Christmas.

"Elizabeth told her father on being reunited with him that she spent some of the time she was abducted in San Diego," Chris Thomas said.

Daniel Trotta, 24, told the Associated Press that he believed Elizabeth stayed in his basement apartment in Salt Lake City for nearly a week in October after Trotta befriended Mitchell, a customer at the health-food store where he once worked. Trotta said he invited the couple and the girl who was with them to stay because they had no home.

Mitchell introduced the girl as his daughter, Trotta said. She said little, always wore a face veil and made no effort to escape. Trotta said when he asked once for her name, Mitchell ordered the girl not to respond.

Trotta went to police Sunday after he recognized Mitchell on "America's Most Wanted" and realized the girl with him could have been Elizabeth.

Trotta said police took photographs and dusted his apartment for fingerprints Tuesday. A police spokeswoman could not immediately confirm that officers had been to the apartment.

Self-described prophet

Mitchell's relatives have described him as a self-proclaimed prophet and adept outdoorsman who has lived in a teepee in mountains outside the city.

Elizabeth's mother, Lois Smart, said in February that she met Mitchell in downtown Salt Lake City when he asked her for money. She gave him $5 and hired him to help her husband repair their home's roof in November 2001. He worked at the home for about five hours. Seven months later, Elizabeth disappeared.

Her 10-year-old sister told police a gunman came into the room and told Elizabeth she might be hurt if she didn't keep quiet. The younger girl, Mary Katherine Smart, said she pretended to be asleep.

Police initially focused on another handyman who worked for the Smarts, Richard Ricci, who denied being involved in Elizabeth's disappearance. He died in August while in prison on a parole violation.

The Smart family grew increasingly critical of police for focusing too much on Ricci. In mid-October, Mary Katherine Smart, the sole witness to her sister's abduction, told her parents she thought Mitchell -- known then to the family as Emmanuel -- could have been the one who took Elizabeth.

Mitchell's sister called law enforcement after the Smart family held a news conference Feb. 3 to circulate an artist's sketch of the man. She provided a photo of her brother, which was given to reporters.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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