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Elizabeth Smart (kidnap victim)

Elizabeth Ann Smart

Elizabeth Ann Smart (born November 3, 1987) is an American girl from Utah who disappeared on June 5, 2002, in the morning hours from her house in the Federal Heights area of Salt Lake City, Utah. She was kidnapped at gunpoint, according to her 9-year-old sister, who was in the same bedroom with her and pretended for at least another two hours to be asleep before telling her parents. The investigation was national, and Salt Lake City police had signaled that their prime suspect was a man already in custody. That suspect, Richard Ricci, died a few weeks later in jail.

On March 12, 2003, Smart was found alive a few miles from her home in Sandy, Utah in the company of two homeless adults, Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Ileen Barzee. Mitchell was wanted by police for questioning because he had worked as a handyman at the Smart residence for one day in November, 2001. When he was spotted in the street and stopped by police with his two companions, Elizabeth was wearing a grey wig and a veil. She was finally recognized during questioning and was promptly reunited with her parents, little sister and four brothers. Mitchell and Barzee were taken into custody as suspected kidnappers.

Many questions remain unanswered after Smart's recovery. To protect her from face-to-face media exposure, Elizabeth was kept close to her family, and her father claimed that she was not being "questioned to death" at home about her activities. As a result, almost no details are yet available about what happened to Elizabeth Smart during the 9 months of her disappearance, save that the suspect she was with, who called himself "Emmanuel", is speculated to have sought Smart as a bride. No motive for the alleged kidnapping was offered.

In the hours to follow after Smart's recovery, several people came forward with details of sightings in which Elizabeth did not seem to be held against her will. She was even photographed attending a party wearing a veil, and on another occasion, strolling with Mitchell and Barzee in a park. According to Elizabeth's father in appearances after the recovery, Elizabeth did know about some of the family's search efforts, but missed the billboards on the freeways. Also, she had heard her uncle calling for her during one of the search efforts in the hills behind the Smart residence.

She initially identified herself as "Augustine", according to the arresting officers. She also said, "I know what you're thinking. You guys think I'm that Elizabeth Smart girl who ran away." When pressed further by the officers to admit that she was indeed Elizabeth Smart, she finally said, "Thou sayest it," a possible reference to the Matthew Gospel in the Bible, in which Pontius Pilate repeatedly questions Jesus about his identity. Officer Victor Quezada said he "took that as a yes."

Brian David Mitchell
(born October 18, 1953)

Wanda Ilene Barzee
(born November 6, 1945)

The kidnapping

Psychologists have speculated that Smart likely would exhibit symptoms of Stockholm syndrome, where kidnap victims eventually embrace the beliefs of their captors. Smart's father immediately claimed that Elizabeth had been brainwashed, which was supported by Barzee's estranged 27-year-old daughter, who added that drugs may also have been involved. There has been no evidence that Mitchell or Barzee practiced any brainwashing techniques on others, and authorities indicated that no drugs were found on the kidnapping suspects.

The facts surrounding Smart's alleged abduction are still unclear. For months, the only available witness to the abduction was Mary Katherine Smart, Elizabeth's 9-year-old sister who slept with her in the same bedroom. According to Mary Katherine, Elizabeth was instructed at gunpoint (a detail later altered to "knifepoint") by an intruder to put on her athletic shoes and leave with him. The little sister said she tried to follow them outside the room but returned to hide another two hours before telling her parents of Elizabeth's disappearance. There was also confusion over whether a screen had been cut from outside or inside the house, for purposes of either entering the house or creating a red herring. There are no matching prints for Mitchell in Elizabeth's bedroom.

Perhaps most puzzling is the fact that the sketch released by the Smart family and based on Mary Katherine's recollections depicts a perpetrator with no facial hair, whereas photographs of Brian Mitchell both before and after June 5, 2002, show him with a full beard.

Media and aftermath

Smart's parents, Ed and Lois Smart, and the extended family persistently maintained a presence in the local and national media, fighting hard to keep their story of family loss, faith and hope from fading away. They provided the media with home movies of Elizabeth as both a teenager and as a child, and uploaded over 20 photos of her on a website which served as a resource center, ElizabethSmart.com (http://www.elizabethsmart.com).

Word spread quickly as an impromptu coalition of websites facilitated the distribution of information about Elizabeth Smart with pre-formatted flyers that could be downloaded for printing or immediately circulated online by email or Internet fax.

The parents' continued cries for help in the media brought much good will, in the form of large groups of volunteers conducting searches throughout different terrains, and also built a platform from which to promote the "Amber Alert." Daily media attention also brought about much sensationalism and pundit speculation. Night after night, talk shows such as CNN's Larry King Live[?] featured numerous commentators with one opinion or another.

In addition, there developed some tensions as the parents accused the police of not thoroughly following up on leads. On the day of Smart's return, the authorities joined the community in expressing great pleasure with the outcome. Yet, it was the media coverage provided by John Walsh in an appearance on Larry King Live[?] and on his own series, America's Most Wanted[?], that started a nationwide hunt for Brian Mitchell and led to his being identified by passersby on March 12, 2003.

After that date, the media began to focus on the Mormon Church and the history of polygamy in Utah, and published a 27-page religious manifesto by Mitchell, The Book of Immanuel David Isaiah (http://www.sltrib.com/2003/Mar/03142003/Manifesto/book.pdf). The Smarts are members of the Mormon Church, and both Mitchell and Barzee had been at one time practicing Mormons as well. According to Mitchell's defense attorney, Larry Long, Brian Mitchell insists he has two wives: Wanda Barzee, or "Hephzibah Eladah Isaiah," and Elizabeth Smart, whom he calls, "Shear Jashub Isaiah" or "Remnant Who Will Return."

Some have used the case to raise questions about why the media tend to focus so much attention on pretty, caucasian, blonde-blue-eyed, girls like Smart when so many other missing children do not receive the same level of media coverage. Media critics speculated that a black, asian, Latino, male, or even ugly child would not have had any national media exposure after the first 24 hours.

It should also be noted that the story of Elizabeth Smart's recovery came at a time of intense debate among members of the United Nations Security Council on whether to go to war against Iraq. The rare and joyous news of a child's safe recovery gave news outlets good news to report, and prompted President Bush to call Elizabeth's father, to wish the family well.

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