Teenage girl kidnapped by fanatic ‘to be his child bride’

Daily Telegraph (England), Mar. 14, 2003
By David Rennie

The family of a teenage girl by a religious fanatic were yesterday confronting the possibility that she was seized to become a child bride.

Elizabeth Smart, 15, was abducted at knife point from her bedroom in an affluent district of Salt Lake City, Utah. She was rescued by police on Wednesday, less than 15 miles from her home, after people recognised her suspected kidnapper, who called himself “Emmanuel”.

Police in the suburb of Sandy challenged a scruffy homeless man walking down the street with two women, who were wearing wigs and veils and carrying bed rolls.

As the officers questioned the group, Elizabeth Smart was evasive and did not respond to her name. Only after some minutes did she identify herself, ending a search that began last June and has dominated the American media.

Police arrested the drifter, named as Brian Mitchell, 49, along with a companion, identified as Wanda Barzee. They were held on suspicion of aggravated kidnapping.

However, as Elizabeth told her devout Mormon family of her ordeal they realised that the pretty, musically-talented teenager had survived “nine months of hell”. Her father, Ed Smart, said Mitchell did “an absolute brainwashing job on her”.

Mr Smart said: “It’s going to be difficult and it’s going to be a long road, but she’s a strong girl and I know she’s going to make it.

“I don’t know what she’s gone through, but I’m sure she’s gone through hell.”

Newspapers reported that police believed that the heavily bearded Mitchell wanted Elizabeth to be his second wife.

“It was a religious thing,” the police source said. “This guy just wanted another wife and God told him this was the one.”

Mr Smart said his daughter appeared to have been kept at knife point for three months in the hills above the family home. As the Mormon community organised searches, Elizabeth heard her name being called out, even recognising the voice of an uncle, but was unable to reply.

“It kills me she was there for three months, literally up in the hills,” said Mr Smart.

However, he said the family’s ordeal had only strengthened his faith. “God lives,” he said. “He is there and the prayers of the world have brought Elizabeth home.”

Mr Smart said it had been a wrench to leave his daughter for even a few minutes to talk to reporters. “Elizabeth is happy and we are so happy to have her back in our arms,” he said. “I hate even leaving her. I’m just always sitting there hugging her the whole time.”

An uncle, Tom Smart said Elizabeth had seen the blue ribbons flown across Utah by those searching for her. “We said, those were for you sweetheart,” he said. “She just smiled. She’s in shock. She’s been in the hands of a very sick person.”

Police said it appeared that Elizabeth had been travelling with Mitchell and Barzee as far as Florida and California.

Investigators were trying to confirm reports that the three were stopped more than once by police in other states.

A family spokesman, Chris Thomas, said Elizabeth was camping or living rough for much of her captivity. But the 15-year-old had no chance to escape.

“She said she had two people with her at all times,” he said.

Reports began to flood in from Utah residents who had seen the strange trio, dressed all in white, with veils concealing the women’s faces. One young man, Daniel Trotta, said he had allowed the three to stay in his basement apartment for four days last October, thinking they were a homeless family.

Mr Trotta said Mitchell told him the veiled girl was his daughter. “When I asked her name, he interrupted her really quick and got nervous and said don’t tell him your name,” he added.

Investigators initially queried a handyman used by the Smart family, Richard Ricci. Mr Ricci, who denied any involvement, died of a brain haemorrhage last August.

Police only recently began searching for Mitchell, a religious fanatic who once lived in a tepee in the mountains above Salt Lake City, shooting and skinning wild animals for food.

Using the name of “Emmanuel”, he visited the Smart family home in late 2001 after Elizabeth’s mother took pity on him and offered him a few hours of work fixing a roof.

He was named as a lead suspect last month, after Elizabeth’s 10-year-old sister, Mary Katherine, belatedly realised that “Emmanuel” might be the shadowy man she saw abducting her sister.

Though Mary Katherine witnessed the abduction in the early hours of June 5, she was too terrified to alert her parents for some hours.

The Smart family held a press conference last month, asking for help finding “Emmanuel”. They released a sketch of him.

Mitchell’s sister and stepchildren immediately contacted police, saying he was a frightening and abusive individual who was capable of kidnapping a child.

Only this week, the Smart family were critical of police, saying they were failing to take Mitchell seriously as a suspect.

Louree Gayler, Wanda Barzee’s daughter, said Mitchell had a history of drug abuse and thought he was “higher than God”.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday March 14, 2003.
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