Finding Elizabeth: She Was in Plain Sight. A Girl Missing for Nine Months Suddenly Shows Up, Alive. Elizabeth Smart's Journey to Hell and Back Again-And the Healing That Lies Ahead

By Johnson, Dirk; Christenson, Elise | Newsweek, March 24, 2003 | Go to article overview

Finding Elizabeth: She Was in Plain Sight. A Girl Missing for Nine Months Suddenly Shows Up, Alive. Elizabeth Smart's Journey to Hell and Back Again-And the Healing That Lies Ahead


Johnson, Dirk, Christenson, Elise, Newsweek


Byline: Dirk Johnson and Elise Christenson

The lost angel has come home. In a handsome house in the Utah foothills, Elizabeth Smart snuggled with her little brother on her lap. She watched her favorite movie, "The Trouble With Angels"--about rebellious Roman Catholic schoolgirls, one of whom becomes a nun. She even played her harp, at the coaxing of her family. She struggled through it, apologizing that she hasn't had a chance to practice in a very long time. On her first night home, she slept in her own bed--little sister Mary Katherine crawled in beside her. In the coming days, old friends and young cousins would come to celebrate, squeeze her tight and give thanks.

"I came up to the door and she came running down the stairs and gave me a big hug," said Elizabeth Calder, a friend since the girls were 4 or 5. There were boxes and boxes of presents to open, sent by well-wishers from around the nation: 55 bouquets of flowers, ice cream from Ohio, a gift from Katie Couric. Someone even sent salami. "I'm getting all these things," Elizabeth Smart marveled, "and I don't know anybody, but everybody knows me."

She is safe now. But Elizabeth can scarcely be whole. It is uncertain precisely what horrors she might have endured at the hands of her demented captor, Brian David Mitchell, a self-styled prophet who called himself Emmanuel and authored a polygamist manifesto detailing his desire to "take seven sisters." On Saturday, Elizabeth swept over the mountains in a police helicopter, trying to locate the nearby campsite where she had been held. Her father, Edward Smart, said the girl had witnessed "bad things" during her captivity. Family members say she had been brainwashed. The Mormon family's ward bishop, Dave Hamblin, puts it plainly: "She has changed. She was with a very bad man." Growing up in an affluent, strongly religious family, Elizabeth had always been a sheltered child, he said: "She was 14 going on 11--she wasn't into the Internet and she hadn't developed an interest in boys. Now she's more like a young woman instead of a girl." Elizabeth is "having to relearn and reconnect with her family emotionally," Hamblin adds. "The process is just beginning."

The kidnapping on June 5 had transfixed the nation: a sweet and innocent girl with butterscotch hair snatched at knife-point from her bed in the middle of the night. Virtual armies of searchers--some --on horseback, some in helicopters--had combed the Utah foothills in a futile search for the girl. At the time, they did not know that Elizabeth was just a few miles from home at a campsite in Dry Creek Canyon with Mitchell and his wife, Ilene Wanda Barzee. "She heard people calling out for her," her father said. As the horrifying abduction stretched to nine months, her mother, Lois Smart, at one point began to lose hope of ever finding her daughter, said Sue Ann Adams, a family friend. "Lois began to come to terms that Elizabeth wouldn't be coming back," Adams said. "She knew that she should focus on raising the remaining five children. But Ed never gave up."

Astonishingly, even with posters of Elizabeth all around, the girl was often seen wandering in public with her captors. She wore various disguises, usually a veil, during their journey that stretched from Utah to San Diego and Nevada and back again. The trio was familiar to workers at a Souper Salad restaurant in suburban Midvale. In their dirty robes, they stood out at a big garden party in Salt Lake City. They stayed for four days in the apartment of Mitchell's acquaintance, Daniel Trotta. "I asked her what her name was," he said, "and Brian interrupted her, 'Don't tell'." He said neither Elizabeth nor Barzee spoke during their stay. People thought them odd, but nobody put the pieces together.

Ultimately, the case hinged on the recollection of Elizabeth's little sister, Mary Katherine--a tip that initially was virtually ignored by police. One October evening, the girl looked up suddenly from her reading--the Guinness Book of World Records--and told her parents, "I think I might know who did this. …

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Finding Elizabeth: She Was in Plain Sight. A Girl Missing for Nine Months Suddenly Shows Up, Alive. Elizabeth Smart's Journey to Hell and Back Again-And the Healing That Lies Ahead
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