Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Heiress Freed after 9 Months Held by Religious Fanatic

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Heiress Freed after 9 Months Held by Religious Fanatic

Article excerpt

Byline: JAMES LANGTON

Heiress held by ATEENAGE girl kidnapped from her bedroom nearly nine months ago has been dramatically rescued just a few miles from her home.

Elizabeth Smart, now 15, was rescued from a religious fanatic and drifter who disguised her in a wig and forced her to wear a veil, Her abduction in Salt Lake City made headlines across the world when she was snatched from the house of her wealthy Utah family at night, and with her terrified younger sister watching in horror. She was widely assumed to have been murdered.

Her uncle Tom Smart said that "miracles do exist" after learning she had been found last night following a tip from a couple who saw her walking down a street with Brian Mitchell, a selfstyled "prophet for the homeless" who likes to be called Emmanuel.

Police said Elizabeth, who was 14 when she was taken, appeared to be "well and healthy,'' but could not tell yet if she had been brainwashed by her captor, who was hired by the Smarts in November 2001 to work on their roof and rake leaves after Mrs Smart found him begging in the street.

Mitchell was arrested with a woman believed to be his wife, Wanda Barzee.

Like Elizabeth she was wearing a veil when police swooped in Sandy, a quiet suburb of Salt Lake City.

Elizabeth's father, Ed Smart, said: "I'm sure she's been through hell," adding through tears: "All of the children out there deserve to come back to their parents the way Elizabeth has come back to us.'' Police sources said that Mitchell had become obsessed with the teenager and may have taken her for a polygamous relationship because he believe God wanted her as his second wife. They did not reveal if the girl had been abused by the drifter.

She may also have been photographed with Mitchell at a party in Salt Lake City last September, her hair and face concealed with a white veil and head covering.

Relatives said she seemed tired but otherwise unharmed by her ordeal.

Family spokesman Chris Thomas said she had been unable to escape. "She said there was no way, she had two people with her at all times."

The teenager is believed to have been taken to California, Florida and Georgia as the kidnappers moved around America and may have been hidden in a teepee in the mountains behind the family home in the days after the kidnapping. Mitchell is believed to have been living in a private house in Salt Lake City in recent weeks. He has no job and lives mainly on handouts.

Television networks broke into regular programming to give the news of her release, which has relegated war with Iraq to second place. Neighbours in the tight-knit community of Federal Heights, the suburb where the family lives, erupted with joy, putting up handmade "welcome home" signs and attaching ribbons and helium-filled balloons to trees in the teenager's favourite colours of blue and yellow. …

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