- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2003

SALT LAKE CITY Elizabeth Smart, the 15-year-old girl who vanished from her bedroom nine months ago, was found alive yesterday in a Salt Lake City suburb with a drifter who once had done work at the family's home, police said.

Elizabeth is "well and healthy" after a "very emotional" reunion with her family, police officials said at a news conference.

"Miracles do exist," said Tom Smart, the girl's uncle.

Elizabeth was returned home about 10:20 p.m. EST in an unmarked police van. She did not speak to reporters as she rushed inside the house. Relatives said Elizabeth was in good condition and had talked with police about her ordeal.

"I don't know what she's gone through, and I'm sure she's been through hell," Elizabeth's tearful father, Ed Smart, said at celebration at his home. "I just know that she's a part of our family, she's loved and we love her so much."

No charges were filed immediately against Brian David Mitchell, a self-described prophet to the homeless who called himself Emmanuel. He is now in police custody, and Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse said: "We are convinced she was kidnapped."

A spokesman for the District Attorney's Office said any crimes in the case would be "prosecuted vigorously, to the full extent of the law."

Elizabeth was wearing a wig when she was found, about 20 miles south of her home, with the Bible-toting drifter and a woman identified as Wanda EileenBarzee, police said. The woman is also in custody.

The girl was found after police in suburban Sandy said witnesses called to say they had seen a man resembling "Emmanuel," a handyman who once worked at the Smart family home in an affluent Salt Lake City neighborhood.

Police stopped Mr. Mitchell and the others after receiving calls a minute apart from Rudy and Nancy Montoya and Anita and Alvin Dickerson. Both couples had spotted the trio carrying bedrolls and bags as they walked down the street.

Mrs. Dickerson, thinking the man resembled the suspect, left her car and looked him in the eye. She thought Elizabeth was an older woman wearing a scarf.

"Lots of people had to see them, they just didn't put two and two together," Mr. Dickerson told the Associated Press.

Patrolmen then spotted Mr. Mitchell walking along a street with two females, one of whom they recognized as Elizabeth, officials said.

News that Elizabeth had been found alive provoked a celebration in front of the Smarts' home, with neighbors and friends holding blue and yellow balloons.

"I'm just overwhelmed. I just couldn't be more happy," said neighbor Charlotte Hamblin, 62.

"How can I even talk? This is such a miracle," said Lynne Godfrey, 57, a neighbor. "I had given up hope I mean, where would she have been? Who would have taken care of her for a year?"

Elizabeth was 14 when she vanished in the early morning of June 5. Police offered no motive or details of where the girl had been since her disappearance.

A Smart family spokesman, Chris Thomas, yesterday said Elizabeth apparently had no chance to escape. "She said there was no way, she had two people with her at all times," he said.

The police offered no motive or details of where the teenager had been since she vanished in June. Authorities reported yesterday that employees at a grocery store near San Diego said they had seen the drifter in recent weeks.

A month ago, the Smarts held a news conference in which they released a sketch of "Emmanuel," who worked briefly at their home in November 2001.

Employees of a supermarket about 15 miles east of San Diego remember seeing a man fitting Mr. Mitchell's description, sheriff's Lt. Guy Chambers said yesterday.

The market's owner, Asad Rabban, said he saw the man several times around the holidays with two women, whose faces were covered. The three wore dirty white clothes.

"They looked funny, the way they were dressed," Mr. Rabban said. "All you could see was their eyes."

Elizabeth's 9-year-old sister, Mary Katherine, who said she pretended to be asleep when Elizabeth was kidnapped at gunpoint, told her parents she thought the abductor might resemble "Emmanuel."

Mr. Mitchell's sister called authorities to identify him as "Emmanuel" after the family's Feb. 3 news conference. The man's stepson, Mark Thompson, said his stepfather was "capable" of kidnapping a child.

The stepson also said Mr. Mitchell believes he is a prophet who needs to preach to the homeless. Mr. Mitchell, who at one time lived in a teepee in the mountains outside Salt Lake City, often was seen panhandling downtown before Elizabeth's disappearance.

Elizabeth's mother, Lois Smart, said she met the man downtown when he asked for money. She gave him $5 and hired him to help her husband work on the roof. He worked for about five hours and the family didn't see him again.

An initial suspect in Elizabeth's disappearance, Richard Ricci, another handyman who once worked in the Smart household, died Aug. 30 after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage while in prison on a parole violation. He said he had nothing to do with the kidnapping.

Yesterday, Mr. Ricci's widow, Angela, said it was a "joyous day for us and the Smarts."

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