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Polygamy implied • Friday March 14, 2003

Some relatives believe Elizabeth Smart was abducted to be the suspect’s second wife.
The New York Times, via The Orange County Register, Mar. 14, 2003
By DEAN E. MURPHY, The New York Times

SALT LAKE CITY Relatives of Elizabeth Smart said Thursday that authorities had shared information with them indicating that the suspect in the girl’s 9-month disappearance was a polygamist.

The information has led some family members to conclude that Elizabeth might have been kidnapped to be a wife.

“There is no question this guy had an obsession on her, that he wanted her,” Elizabeth’s aunt, Angela Dumke, said of the suspect, Brian David Mitchell.

Tom Smart, the girl’s uncle, said the FBI had shared documents with the family that pointed to Mitchell’s polygamy. Dumke said she also had seen the materials, which she described as chilling and which included statements written by Mitchell.

“This guy is into polygamy and all of that,” she said.

The girl’s father, Edward Smart, told a television interviewer Thursday that Elizabeth had seen “bad things” during her captivity with Mitchell. He did not elaborate. Later asked what she might have seen, Tom Smart said: “This man is evil. It’s what you’d imagine.”

Tom Smart also suggested another possible motive: that Elizabeth was kidnapped because Mitchell’s wife, Wanda Barzee, wanted a daughter.

“It is one of those two, and maybe something we don’t even know of,” he said.

At a news conference Thursday, Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse described Mitchell as a “self-proclaimed polygamist” but would not say whether Elizabeth was abducted by Mitchell to be a wife.

Dinse also would also not say whether Elizabeth had been sexually assaulted.

“That is something else we are not going to talk about, what physically happened to her,” he said.

At the news conference, Ed Smart shared heartwarming details of the family’s first night together.

He said Elizabeth and her sister, Mary Katherine, had fallen asleep in their bedroom holding hands. Elizabeth watched her favorite movie, “The Trouble with Angels.”

“Elizabeth is happy; she’s well,” Edward Smart said. “And we are so happy to have her back in our arms. I hate even leaving her. I am just always sitting there hugging her the whole time. Is this real?”

Smart’s expression grew pained when asked about her ordeal. He said that he had no doubt that Elizabeth had been brainwashed and that she had lived through hell. He began to weep as he gestured toward the parched foothills just beyond his home.

“She said that she had spent months right up here in the mountains, through August,” Smart said, his hand reaching as if they were close enough to touch. “I can’t believe it.”

Smart also made an oblique reference to the Salt Lake City police’s handling of the investigation. Many questions have centered on the department’s slowness to focus on Mitchell as the main suspect despite the conviction of Elizabeth’s younger sister, Mary Katherine, who told her parents last October that he was the man she had seen in their bedroom June 5.

Though the Smarts were reluctant to openly criticize the police, Edward Smart declared Mary Katherine “my hero” and said that the girl, who was 9 when the abduction occurred, played a more significant role than the authorities in bringing Elizabeth home alive.

At the news conference, Dinse expressed regret.

“Let me tell you that in hindsight it’s 20/20 vision,” Dinse said.

Accounts of Elizabeth’s behavior suggest that she may have had opportunities to escape or to ask others for help, and yet did not try.

When the police stopped her with Mitchell and Barzee on the street in Sandy, Elizabeth at first gave a fake name.

Sandy police officer Bill O’Neal said she became agitated when officers asked her to remove a wig and sunglasses she was wearing, telling them she recently had eye surgery.

“We took her aside … she kind of just blurted out, ‘I know who you think I am. You guys think I’m that Elizabeth Smart girl who ran away,’” O’Neal said.

The group was taken to the Sandy police station in handcuffs; police said Elizabeth never asked about her family.

Psychologists interviewed Thursday said fear could explain such puzzling behavior in anyone who was abducted.

“This young lady was kidnapped as a 14-year-old,” said Dr. James S. Kahn, a child and adolescent psychologist at the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute.

“We don’t know what occurred. The threat of harm, the threat to harm the family, could be a very strong variable.”

Authorities in California disclosed Thursday that Mitchell had been arrested and held for five days in San Diego County last month for vandalizing a church.

A fingerprint check conducted as part of his arrest showed he had given authorities a false identity and that he was Brian Mitchell, but deputies had no reason to keep him in custody, sheriff’s spokesman Chris Saunders said. Mitchell pleaded guilty and was released on probation Feb. 18.

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