‘God told them to take Elizabeth’

The New York Times, via the Los Angeles Daily News, Mar. 14, 2003
By Nick Madigan, The New York Times

SALT LAKE CITY — The wife of the man charged with kidnapping Elizabeth Smart said the girl was taken to be the first of seven additional wives that a divine vision told him to take, according to a social worker who visited the woman in jail Friday.

Hours after the visit, the Salt Lake County sheriff said the man, Brian Mitchell, would be also charged with attempted kidnapping in a burglary at the home of Elizabeth’s 18-year-old cousin. Seven weeks after Elizabeth was taken from her bedroom by an intruder who had cut the room’s window screen, someone cut the screen to the bedroom window of the cousin, who is said to resemble Elizabeth.

Together, the jail-house conversation and the new charges begin to answer why Elizabeth was abducted and what happened to her in the nine months she was held by Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, messianic homeless people who had been excommunicated from the Mormon Church.

“God told them to take Elizabeth,” said the social worker, Vicki Cottrell, executive director of the Utah chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, who has been a friend of Barzee for 25 years. “They were doing what God asked them to do.”

Cottrell said in an interview Friday afternoon that Barzee, who was arrested with her husband Tuesday as they walked along a road in suburban Salt Lake City with Elizabeth, spoke affectionately of Elizabeth.

“‘Wanda, thank you for taking good care of Elizabeth,”‘ Cottrell said she told Barzee. “She replied that she loved her and missed her very much.”

Speaking on a telephone through a glass partition, Barzee disclosed to Cottrell that on Thanksgiving Day 2000 she and her husband had received “a revelation that the celestial law of polygamy had returned and that he was to take seven wives,” Cottrell said.

In a 27-page document Mitchell wrote last year, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, Mitchell said he was one in a line of Mormon prophets dating back to the founding of the church by Joseph Smith Jr. The document, written in the style of the Book of Mormon and titled “The Book of Immanuel David Isaiah,” Mitchell calls himself both a prophet and a “ministering angel” who was sent to Earth to restore the Mormon Church on its proper path.

“This promised land of the United States of America is the seat of untold depravity and idolatry and murder and secret combinations,” Mitchell wrote in the document, in which he described himself in the third person as the “righteous right hand” of God.

Mormon Church officials have long disavowed polygamy, which was widely practiced by church founders in the 19th century, and have excommunicated members who still practice it. But thousands of so-called fundamentalist Mormons in Utah continue to take multiple wives, citing the Book of Mormon as their inspiration.

With Elizabeth safely at home in the city’s Federal Heights neighborhood, the authorities have focused on the activities of her suspected captors. They are now known to have taken the girl, veiled like a Muslim, to California and Nevada before returning to Salt Lake City just hours before they were spotted by citizens and stopped by police.

Mitchell and Barzee, his second wife, are suspected to have formulated a plan that would have snared another of the Smart girls into their polygamous web. Investigators in the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office said they were operating under the assumption that it was Mitchell who cut a screen at the home at the Virginia Hills Drive home of Elizabeth’s teenage cousins in late July without, apparently, entering.

“The residence on Virginia Hills Drive had been cut in a similar fashion to what had been done at the Elizabeth Smart residence,” said Sheriff Aaron Kennard, who said charges of attempted burglary and attempted kidnapping would be filed Monday. “I believe that we have solid information and solid leads that can connect the two households and the perpetrator to the two households together.”

Kennard’s was to have been one of two news conferences Friday by law enforcement officials. But the second, to have been given by the Salt Lake City Police Department, which has jurisdiction over the Elizabeth Smart case, was canceled. The department has come under increasing criticism for its handling of the investigation, including criticism from the Smart family that detectives downplayed a tip from the youngest of the Smart girls, Mary Katherine, that indicated Mitchell as the possible kidnapper.

Speaking Thursday to reporters, police Chief Charles F. Dinse acknowledged that his investigators were focused on another suspect, Richard A. Ricci, who had also worked in the Smart home and who had died in prison while serving a sentence on an unrelated charge. All along, Ricci had said he was not guilty.

Clearly on the defensive, police Friday seemed determined not to say too much.


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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday March 15, 2003.
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