Family suspects girl afflicted with captive syndrome

Dad: Give Elizabeth time
Chicago Tribune, Mar. 14, 2003
By Judith Graham, Tribune national correspondent.

SALT LAKE CITY — As this city expressed overwhelming gratitude to their God and their community for the safe return of Elizabeth Smart, a sobering reality was setting in: Elizabeth is not the same girl she used to be.

Her family believes the 15-year-old girl, allegedly abducted by a religious fanatic who had done minor maintenance work on their home, was brainwashed.

“I have no doubt about that,” her father, Ed Smart, said Thursday morning.

During the nine months she is believed to have been under the control of Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Ilene Barzee, the girl apparently never reached out for help even though she appeared frequently in public with the couple.

“She was psychologically impacted by this abduction,” said Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse. Mitchell and Barzee remained in custody on suspicion of aggravated kidnapping.

Though Elizabeth appears physically healthy and alert and has been helpful to police and the FBI, family members say she has been through a lot in nine months.

“I think maybe she has been converted to a weird thing,” said her uncle, Tom Smart, Thursday evening. “The Stockholm syndrome–obviously that’s a factor.”

The reference is to a psychological phenomenon in which hostages, victims of abuse or cult members end up identifying with and even caring for the people who have put them in untenably difficult situations. It is a defense mechanism that guards against the emotional effect of potentially overwhelming trauma, experts said.

It is a difficult subject for members of the Smart family, who said they spent Thursday hugging and kissing Elizabeth, telling her over and over again how much they loved her, eating pizza, and celebrating the birthday she has missed in November.

“Elizabeth is happy, she is well, and we are so happy to have her back in our arms,” said her father.

On Wednesday night, Elizabeth sat down at the harp and played a few songs, watched a video of her favorite movie, “The Trouble With Angels,” and pored through volumes of e-mail sent to her family over the last nine months.

Asked whether she knew how extensive the hunt for her had been, Ed Smart said Elizabeth had “no idea.”

As it turns out, Elizabeth was very close to the people who searched so desperately for her in the days and weeks after her disappearance in the dead of the night June 5, 2002, after a man entered her bedroom and put a knife to her throat.

According to police, Mitchell and Barzee at first took her only a few miles away from her home, to a campsite in a mountain canyon, which the girl has helped police identify.

There, Elizabeth was close enough to searchers to hear her uncle, David Fancom, calling her name. Asked what she went through and how she bore it, her father said he was giving her “space” and not trying to “force things out of her.”

The girl stayed in Dry Canyon, above her family’s home, through August, and then in early October was taken by Mitchell and Brazee to the San Diego area, according to a timeline released by Salt Lake City police Thursday.

The three spent the next four months mostly in another campsite east of San Diego. Last month, Mitchell was arrested by San Diego County police on charges of burglary, police confirmed Thursday, and spent six days in jail. But Salt Lake City police had not put out any warrants, and deputies had no reason to keep him in custody.

Return to Salt Lake City

This month, the girl and her alleged captors left California, traveled through Nevada, and arrived back in Utah around 3 a.m. Wednesday, the day she was discovered after walking on a street in Sandy wearing a wig and filthy white robes that had been the distinctive garb of the three, police said.

Elizabeth may also have spent time in an apartment a block from a Salt Lake City police station and attended a party in the company of her apparent abductors. Merchants and transients in Lakeside, near San Diego, said they first noticed the man and two females last fall and may have seen them again as recently as two weeks ago.

The three largely kept to themselves, and the man known as Emmanuel claimed the girl was his daughter, they said.

Mitchell, a native of Salt Lake City, had preached and panhandled on the streets for years, calling himself a prophet. He was so well-known in the community, Utah Public Radio had considered doing a profile on him two years ago, a reporter for the radio station said.

“He acted like he was some kind of god,” said Gordon Legg, 56, at a homeless shelter Mitchell frequented in the city. “You look at him and his eyes were so glassy, and he had this horrible fierce look, it made you feel weird.”

Once a devout Mormon, Mitchell had been excommunicated, church officials said. His family and the FBI have copies of a “manifesto” Mitchell wrote, in which he professes himself to be an adherent of polygamy and expounds on his ideas, according to Tom Smart. He declined to give further details.

On Wednesday, Barzee’s daughter, Louree Gayler, told the Salt Lake Tribune and a local television station that Mitchell had kissed and held her in a way that made her feel uncomfortable after his marriage to her mother. At the time, she was 12 years old, two years younger than Elizabeth was when she was kidnapped.

Three years later, Gayler left to live with her father, and her departure apparently devastated her mother.

Perhaps the couple was trying to regain a daughter in allegedly taking Smart, Gayler suggested. Police said Thursday they would not comment on whether the girl had been sexually abused.

Wanda Barzee’s mother, Dora Corbett, said the couple had become a follower of survivalist guru Bo Gritz after Mitchell began having “revelations” about a dozen years ago.

No contact with Mitchell

Still unclear is how Elizabeth Smart came to Mitchell’s attention. When he worked at the Smart family home in November 2001 for about four hours, the girl did not have contact with him, family members and police said.

But in the months that followed, Mitchell allegedly watched the girl and spent time becoming familiar with the house, police said.

Ed Smart, Elizabeth’s father, said he never could have guessed from the time he spent on the roof with Mitchell what he was capable of.

“He was so soft-spoken,” he said. “I never could have guessed such an animal could exist . . . behind a person who looked so reasonable.”

Angela Smart, Elizabeth’s aunt, believes she ran into Mitchell in the afternoon following Elizabeth’s abduction or the next day.

She had gone to photocopying shop to pick up the posters of Elizabeth the family had printed up to post all over the city, when a man dressed in a long white robe and white hat approached her asking for money.

“I asked what do you need it for? He became very evasive and turned his eyes away,” Smart said. He was with a woman also dressed in a white robe, she said.

Aunt’s uneasy feeling

Smart had a strange feeling about the encounter, which she described to her family when she went home.

“It bothered me,” she said.

Later, after a composite picture was drawn of the man the Smart family had known as “Emmanuel,” she realized it could have been the same person.

Elizabeth’s apparent bonding with her captors was evident when she was found Wednesday. The police officers who confronted the three of them on a sidewalk in Sandy, a Salt Lake City suburb, said the teenager repeatedly denied her identity.

Police questioned her aggressively about her identity, Officer Bill O’Neal said. He said she became agitated when officers asked her to remove her wig and sunglasses and told 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.

“She was very evasive,” Sandy police officer Victor Quezada added. “I asked her if she was Elizabeth Smart. [She] denied it, denied it. Said she was Augustine Marshall, from Florida.

“But then her bottom lip started to quiver a little bit. She was crying. I asked her again if she was the girl we were looking for. She said, `Thou say it.’ And we knew we had her back safely.”

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