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Utah Girl Is Found 9 Months After Kidnapping; 2 Arrested

Elizabeth Smart was with a drifter and a woman in a Salt Lake City suburb. Citizen tips lead to arrests.

March 13, 2003|David Kelly and Julie Cart | Times Staff Writers

SALT LAKE CITY -- Elizabeth Smart, 15, abducted from her bedroom nine months ago, was found alive Wednesday with a drifter who had worked briefly for her family. They were accompanied by a woman who, along with the girl, was wearing a wig and a blue, pillowcase-like veil over her face.

"She is well and healthy," said Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse.

Her uncle, Tom Smart, said she was reunited with her joyful family. He declared: "Miracles do exist."

Police identified the drifter as Brian David Mitchell, who called himself Emmanuel, a self-appointed prophet to the homeless. Relatives said he lived in a tepee in the mountains outside Salt Lake City. He and the woman, Wanda Barzee, identified as his companion, were jailed for investigation of aggravated kidnapping.

Mitchell also was held on an outstanding warrant charging retail theft.

Dinse offered no motive for the abduction. The chief said Elizabeth had been held against her will. Chris Thomas, a family spokesman, said she told her parents she had been moved from encampment to encampment around the country, unable to escape because two people were with her at all times.

Authorities said Mitchell had been seen near San Diego shortly before Christmas. They said that employees of a market in Lakeside recognized a photo of him on Wednesday afternoon. Assad Rabban, the market owner, said Mitchell had been with two women whose faces were covered. He said they wore dirty white robes but did not act suspiciously.

The arrests, in the Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy, were prompted by tips from citizens, including one who recognized Emmanuel from his likenesses in newspapers and on television. The tips brought a happy conclusion to one of a string of frightening disappearances last summer involving children. They included the kidnap slayings of Danielle van Dam, 7, of San Diego and Samantha Runnion, 5, of Stanton, Calif.

Within hours of Elizabeth Smart's discovery, Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson told reporters: "I've met with Ed and Lois Smart. I saw Elizabeth in their arms. She couldn't let go of her little brother. They wanted me to thank everybody for all of the great support, the search effort and the hopes and prayers sent their way. Those prayers were answered today."

Elizabeth's mother, Lois, had met Emmanuel in November 2001 in downtown Salt Lake City, where he was panhandling. Street people around Temple Square, site of the temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, recall Emmanuel as a figure in blue or white robes, carrying a cane with a skull on top. "Something was definitely wrong" with him, said Jody Keisner, 40.

"He was too weird for me," said a panhandler who identified himself as Joe, 52.

Nonetheless, Lois Smart said she gave Emmanuel $5 and hired him to help her husband work on the roof of their home in the affluent Federal Heights neighborhood. After about five hours, she said, he left.

On June 5, when Elizabeth was 14, she vanished during the early-morning darkness from the bedroom she shared with her sister, Mary Katherine, 9, who said her sister was taken by a man with a gun. Police said he might have entered the house by cutting a window screen near the back door.

Mary Katherine told police the gunman threatened to hurt her sister if Elizabeth didn't keep quiet. The younger girl pretended to be asleep.

Police, citizens and a children's recovery group, the Laura Recovery Center Foundation, named after a 12-year-old girl kidnapped and murdered five years ago in Texas, began a lengthy, widespread search. It caused considerable tension between Elizabeth's family and the police. The Smarts thought investigators were moving too slowly.

The police, on the other hand, said the Smarts compromised the investigation by organizing their own search and disturbing evidence.

The family criticized the Salt Lake City Police Department publicly for concentrating on other suspects, including a handyman, Richard Albert Ricci, who also had worked at the Smart home. Ricci pleaded not guilty to unrelated burglary and theft charges, then died in August of a brain hemorrhage. Police said Wednesday that Ricci probably had nothing to do with the abduction.

Throughout most of last summer, the Smarts held twice-daily news briefings, and thousands of volunteers combed the foothills around Salt Lake City, searching for any sign of Elizabeth.

In October, the Smarts said Mary Katherine had come to them to say that Emmanuel seemed to resemble the kidnapper. The family told the police, but investigators made no arrests. In February, the family held a news conference to announce a $10,000 reward for anyone who could clear Ricci and released a sketch of the bearded man they knew as Emmanuel.

After the news conference, Mitchell's sister called authorities to identify him. His stepson, Mark Thompson, gave investigators photographs of him clean shaven and said his stepfather was "capable" of kidnapping a child.

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