Reuters, Mar. 13, 2003
By Dan Whitcomb and James Nelson
SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) – Elizabeth Smart was taken against her will at knife-point from Salt Lake City home nine months ago but at some point in her captivity she “psychologically” joined her captors, police and family members said on Thursday.
Salt Lake City police chief Rick Dinse, speaking a day after Smart’s “miraculous” return to her family, declined to say whether the teen had been physically or sexually abused, although police knew what happened to her during her ordeal.
“We are not going to talk about what physically happened to her,” Dinse told a news conference.
The chief said Elizabeth was held against her will for two months in a remote mountain campsite and later became “psychologically affected” by Mitchell and her other captor, Mitchell’s wife Wanda Barzee. That attachment prevented her from escaping when she might have had the means.
Asked why Elizabeth had not tried to escape from the street preacher and his wife held on suspicion of kidnapping her, Dinse said; “There was clearly a psychological impact that occurred at some point. There is no question she was psychologically affected by this group.”
Tom Smart, Elizabeth’s uncle, told a small group of reporters, “I think maybe she has been wildly converted to a weird thing.” Then he rephrased this comment, saying, “I am tired, I shouldn’t be saying that — the Stockholm syndrome is what I mean.”
The Stockholm syndrome refers to prisoners taken hostage who then identify with their captors, based on what happened in 1973 during a prolonged Stockholm bank robbery. America’s most famous example of the syndrome was heiress Patricia Hearst.
Dinse declined to speculate on the motive for the kidnapping, which riveted Americans last summer amid a spate of child kidnappings.
“I think it would be premature (to say) what the motive was. I’d like to stay away from that,” he said.
Police gave few details of their investigation other than to say they were not looking for suspects other than Mitchell and Barzee. The pair are expected to be charged on Friday.
But they revealed that Mitchell had slipped through police fingers last month, when he was arrested in San Diego, California, for vandalism at a local church. Mitchell gave a false name and because there was no national alert for him at that time, he was not picked up on suspicion of Smart’s abduction.
Mitchell, who was excommunicated from the Mormon church years ago, Barzee and Smart had spent several months in San Diego, living in a run-down trailer, police said. Smart was not recognized because she always wore a white veil and baggy clothes.
Elizabeth’s father Ed Smart called Mitchell “evil” and “fanatical.”
“He was looking for a pure, innocent girl, and she (Elizabeth) was angelic. This was what he wanted and he was fixated on her,” Smart said in a radio interview. Mitchell had briefly worked as a handyman for the Smart family.
Police said that on Thursday they had found the remote campsite where Mitchell took Smart in the hills just above the Smart family home and kept her there for two months. The trio later took a bus to San Diego, using money “from God,” Dinse said.
Mitchell was described by his stepson, Derrick Thompson, as a “weird” man who had talked to God in the desert after taking 10 hits of LSD. “They said they weren’t on drugs,” Thompson told the Deseret News of Salt Lake City of his stepfather and his mother, adding:
The Smart family have focused on their joy at the “miraculous” safe return of a young girl many people assumed was dead. “I can just tell that he (Mitchell) did an absolute brainwashing job on her,” Ed Smart told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“We know she’s been through hell but whatever she’s been through, we’re going to be OK. We thank the good Lord we have her back,” he said
A police source quoted in The Seattle Times said Mitchell had told them he wanted Smart to become his wife. “It was a religious thing. This guy just wanted another wife and God told him this was the one.”
The Salt Lake Tribune said Mitchell was a formerly devout member of the Mormon church who married and fathered four children before divorcing his wife in the late 1980s. He remarried Barzee, who had several children of her own.
Mitchell’s stepsons, Mark and Derrick Thompson, said that Mitchell and their mother, Barzee, had lead an “average life,” before they started to wear white robes, and sold their possessions to live on the street to preach to the homeless and panhandle.
Mitchell’s stepdaughter, Louree Gayler, said she moved out of their home in her early teens. “Brian was always hugging me the wrong way and kissing on me and I just didn’t like it over there. So I went and moved back with my dad and I haven’t seen my mom since,” Gayler said on morning television.