- For the Canadian poet, see Elizabeth Smart (author)
This photo of Elizabeth Smart was widely ditributed after her abduction from her bedroom in June of 2002
Elizabeth Ann Smart (born November 3, 1987) is an American girl from Salt Lake City, Utah who was kidnapped June 5, 2002, in the morning hours from her house in the Federal Heights area of the city. She was later rescued March 12, 2003 a few miles from her home in Sandy, Utah in the company of two homeless adults, Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Ileen Barzee.
Smart was kidnapped at gunpoint, according to her 9-year-old sister, who was in the same bedroom with her and pretended for at least another two hours to be asleep before telling her parents (Ed Smart and Lois Smart). The investigation was national, and Salt Lake City police had signaled that their prime suspect was a man already in custody for unrelated reasons. That suspect, Richard Ricci, died in jail from a brain hemmorage a few weeks after he refused to provide Utah corrections officers with a confession.
A massive community search effort, organized by the Laura Recovery Center, looked for Elizabeth in the days immediately following her abduction. Up to 2000 volunteers a day were dispatched to the area surrounding her home trying to find any trace of the missing girl. Volunteers combed the hills above her family's home and extended the search using search dogs and aircraft. After a week of intensive searching, the community led search was closed by the local volunteers and efforts were directed to other means of finding Elizabeth.
Just over eight months later, Brian David Mitchell, who was wanted by police for questioning because he had worked as a handyman at the Smart residence for one day in November, 2001, was spotted by residents in the street with his two companions not far from the Smart home in Sandy, Utah. When he was stopped by the officers, Smart was wearing a gray wig and a veil. She was finally recognized during questioning and was promptly reunited with her parents, little sister and four brothers. Mitchell and his companion, Wanda Ileen Barzee, were taken into custody as suspected kidnappers.
Mitchell, who called himself "Immanuel David Isaiah," is speculated to have sought Smart as a bride.
To protect her from face-to-face media exposure, Elizabeth was kept close to her family, and her father stated that she was not being "questioned to death" at home about her activities. Later in the year, however, the family was receiving counselling. Elizabeth even took her parents to the location where she claims she had been chained by her kidnappers.
In the hours that followed Smart's recovery, several people came forward with details of sightings in which Elizabeth did not seem to be held against her will. She was even photographed attending a party wearing a veil, and on another occasion, strolling with Mitchell and Barzee in a park. Peer-to-peer networks have purportedly been circulating a video of Smart freely roaming about during parties she attended. Other attendees of those parties were not aware that Smart was a kidnapping victim, and Smart did not attempt to seek their help. According to Elizabeth's father in appearances after the recovery, Elizabeth did know about some of the family's search efforts, but missed the billboards on the freeways. Also, she had heard her uncle calling for her during one of the search efforts in the hills behind the Smart residence, but was either unable, or unwilling to draw her uncle's attention. There is speculation that Smart may have been a willing participant rather than a helpless victim. In response, the Smart family claims that Elizabeth willingly cooperated only because she was brainwashed by Mitchell and Barzee into believing that God wanted her to be Mitchell's wife.
Elizabeth had been "on a cord" for many months, and never off it, according to Lois Smart. Through time, Mitchell would free her from time to time. During one of those times, while Mitchell and Barzee were in an argument, she tried to escape. Mitchell caught her though and said "what do you think you're doing or where are you going?"
According to the arresting officers, Elizabeth initially identified herself to them as "Augustine." She also said, "I know what you're thinking. You guys think I'm that Elizabeth Smart girl who ran away." When pressed further by the officers to admit that she was indeed Elizabeth Smart, she finally said, "Thou sayest it," a possible reference to the Gospel of Matthew in the Bible, in which Pontius Pilate repeatedly questions Jesus about his identity. Officer Victor Quezada said he "took that as a yes." It is alleged that Elizabeth had lived under a constant threat of Mitchell having the ability to murder her and harm her family, but when initially discovered and questioned by Officer Quezada, she claimed that she "ran away".
Psychologists not associated with the case have speculated that Smart likely would exhibit symptoms of Stockholm syndrome, where kidnap victims eventually embrace the beliefs of their captors. Smart's father immediately claimed that Elizabeth had been brainwashed, which was supported by Barzee's estranged 27-year-old daughter, who added that drugs may also have been involved. Authorities indicated that no drugs were found on the kidnapping suspects and there has been no evidence that Mitchell or Barzee practiced any brainwashing techniques on others. Furthermore, mind control theories are not part of accepted psychological science, and the concept of brainwashing is not used by most psychologists and social scientists.
As noted, the facts surrounding Smart's alleged abduction are still unclear. For months, the only available witness to the abduction was Mary Katherine Smart, Elizabeth's 9-year-old sister who slept with her in the same bedroom. According to Mary Katherine, Elizabeth was instructed at gunpoint (a detail later altered to "knifepoint") by an intruder to put on her athletic shoes and leave with him. The little sister said she tried to follow them outside the room but returned to hide another two hours before telling her parents of Elizabeth's disappearance. There was also confusion over whether a screen had been cut from outside or inside the house, for purposes of either entering the house or creating a red herring. The screen being cut from the inside would indicate that Elizabeth and/or her sister were willing participants in Elizabeth Smart's disappearance. No matching prints for Mitchell were found in Elizabeth's bedroom.
Perhaps most puzzling is the fact that the sketch released by the Smart family and based on Mary Katherine's recollections depicts a perpetrator with no facial hair, whereas photographs of Brian Mitchell both before and after June 5, 2002, show him with a full beard.
Media and aftermath
Smart's parents, Ed and Lois Smart, and the extended family persistently maintained a presence in the local and national media, fighting hard to keep their story of family loss, faith and hope from fading away. They provided the media with home movies of Elizabeth as both a teenager and as a child, and uploaded over 20 photos of her on a website which served as a resource center, ElizabethSmart.com. (http://www.elizabethsmart.com)
Word spread quickly as an impromptu coalition of websites facilitated the distribution of information about Elizabeth Smart with pre-formatted flyers that could be downloaded for printing or immediately circulated online by email or Internet fax.
The parents' continued cries for help in the media brought much good will, in the form of large groups of volunteers conducting searches throughout different terrains, and also built a platform from which to promote the "AMBER Alert." Daily media attention also brought about much sensationalism and pundit speculation. Night after night, talk shows such as CNN's Larry King Live featured numerous commentators with one opinion or another.
In addition, there developed some tensions as the parents accused the police of not thoroughly following up on leads. On the day of Smart's return, the authorities joined the community in expressing great pleasure with the outcome. Yet, it was the media coverage provided by John Walsh in an appearance on Larry King Live and on his own series, America's Most Wanted, that started a nationwide hunt for Brian Mitchell and led to his being identified by passersby on March 12, 2003.
After that date, the media began to focus on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the history of polygamy in Utah. Various media outlets published a 27-page religious manifesto by Mitchell, The Book of Immanuel David Isaiah. The Smarts are members of the LDS Church, and both Mitchell and Barzee had been at one time practicing Mormons as well. According to Mitchell's defense attorney, Larry Long, Brian Mitchell insists he has two wives: Wanda Barzee, or "Hephzibah Eladah Isaiah," and Elizabeth Smart, whom he calls, "Shear Jashub Isaiah" or "Remnant Who Will Return."
Some advocates have raised objections to the media tendency to focus so much attention on pretty, Caucasian, blonde, blue-eyed girls like Smart when so many other missing children do not receive the same level of media coverage. Media critics charged that a black, Asian, Latino, male, or even ugly children would not have had any national media exposure after the first 24 hours.
It should also be noted that the story of Elizabeth Smart's recovery came at a time of intense debate among members of the United Nations Security Council on whether to go to war against Iraq. The rare and joyous news of a young woman's safe recovery gave news outlets good news to report, and prompted President Bush to call Elizabeth's father, to wish the family well.
In December of 2003, Elizabeth Smart and her family were featured on the Oprah Winfrey show, where Winfrey questioned the Smarts about the kidnapping of Elizabeth.
Following Smart's return
In photos taken of Elizabeth shortly after her return, she appeared heavier than just before her abduction. In fact, she was normally only given meals of bread while a captive, but overexposure to the sun had made her face swollen, despite her use of a veil.
Smart's heavier appearance, and the timing of her recovery—Smart was missing for some ten months—led to some speculation that Smart's kidnapping was an elaborate ruse to cover up an embarrassing pregnancy—but such notions are generally not considered likely, and are furthermore unsupported by any evidence or testimony.
Following her return, Elizabeth appeared on the Oprah show and talked in sparse detail about her abduction. One detail she disclosed is that Mitchell forced her to keep a diary and to write in it daily. She knew he would read the entries she made, so she wrote such things as:
- "I like it here. They are nice to me."
But below the entries in English, she wrote in French things such as:
- "I hate it here. I hate them. I want to be back with my family."
She also revealed that after her experience, she has more compassion for the homeless. Asked if she felt sorry for her captors then, she stated that she was not referring to them and that they were homeless by choice and had no compassion for their condition or what they did to her. But she went on to say that, "It's hard to be cold. It's hard to not have enough to eat."
Elizabeth started school in the fall semester of 2003 at Salt Lake City's East High School. Elizabeth says that her friends have welcomed her back, but do not ask questions, and that some "weirdos" at school taunt her.
Book & Movie
The Smart family published a book, Bringing Elizabeth Home, which was used as the basis of a television movie which was aired Sunday, November 9, 2003 on CBS. The Smarts claimed they wanted to avoid subjecting their daughter to the limelight, but that after realizing it was inevitable, they decided it would be preferable to be involved in the process and offered input during the making of the movie.
A lawyer for Mitchell, David Biggs, said the national broadcast of the television movie could further delay justice and considered filing a motion. The piece characterizes Mitchell and Barzee as deranged religious zealots, and provides no background on either of them.
Mitchell and Barzee are being held on $10 million bond awaiting the outcome of mental-competency tests. The results will indicate whether they are fit to stand trial on charges including kidnapping, sexual assault and burglary. The investigation has cost $1.5 million and has amassed 53,000 man-hours. According to the New York Post, "that included hypnotizing Elizabeth's 9-year-old sister, Mary Katherine."
Prosecutors say that Mitchell and Barzee kidnapped Elizabeth to be Mitchell's second wife, that they held her against her will in the foothills above Federal Heights until October 8, that they then took her to California, where they stayed until March 5.
- Bringing Elizabeth Home - ISBN 0385512147
- ElizabethSmart.com (http://www.elizabethsmart.com) - appears inactive
- The Book of Immanuel David Isaiah (http://www.sltrib.com/2003/Mar/03142003/Manifesto/book.pdf) (PDF file)
- CourtTV site (http://www.courttv.com/news/smart/) with extension information on the case from its inception
- Laura Recovery Center (http://www.lrcf.org)