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ELIZABETH SMART CASE Kin give insight into suspects



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



Brian Mitchell's stepdaughter said she felt uncomfortable around him.

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Elizabeth Smart wore braids and a big smile in her incredible return home, nine months after she was taken 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 the 15-year-old, who was alive and healthy and 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 drifter 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.

Ed Smart said today that he had not asked his daughter for details about her nine months away from home.

"Physically she's OK," he told CBS' "The Early Show". "I know that she's been through brainwashing. For her to have gone through the past nine months has just been horrible, absolutely horrible."

Mitchell, a self-styled prophet for the homeless, and Barzee were 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.

Assistant District Attorney Kent Morgan said today that his office was working with federal prosecutors, who could file charges if Elizabeth was taken out of Utah during the ordeal as investigators believe.

Stepdaughter's account

Barzee's stepdaughter, Louree Gayler, was 12 when her mother married Mitchell. She said they prayed for hours and expected her to do the same, and that she felt uncomfortable and went to live with her father after three years.

"There could have been a little bit of a brainwashing, they're very good at that," Gayler told NBC's "Today" show. "Or there could have been drugs involved."

She said Elizabeth may have been kidnapped to "give my mom back something she lost" when Gayler left home. "Elizabeth resembles me at 15," she told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Asked if her stepfather was sexually abusive, she said there were "hugs, kisses that were kind of uncalled for" and she was sometimes uncomfortable with the way he stared at her.

"He shot a dog in front of us, made me eat my own rabbit for dinner, things like that," she told "The Early Show."

Gayler's brother, Mark Thompson, 32, told The New York Times his mother "freaked out" when Gayler left home. "I remember her saying, 'How dare my baby leave me?' Maybe she felt like she needed to replace a child."

Thompson said his mother carried around dolls for years, pretending they were alive. He said she had also been forcibly removed from a hospital -- as recently as last year -- "for touching other people's kids."

Spotted trio on street

Rudy and Nancy Montoya had spotted Mitchell walking with two people in Sandy, a Salt Lake City suburb, and Rudy Montoya said he recognized the man from television reports.

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.

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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