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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- After living in a seemingly endless daze for nine months and finally having her daughter Elizabeth sleeping in her own bed two nights in a row, Lois Smart on Friday told The Associated Press she's feeling "fantastic."
Two days after Elizabeth turned up alive with a homeless couple she had been with since she disappeared, the rest of the Smart family is feeling the same elation, an unfamiliar, welcome sensation after holding each other up through countless moments of despair.
"It was huge for more than just our family. I believe we felt a higher power," said Elizabeth's uncle Tom Smart. "We think this is a miracle we're having here. But we've seen miracles throughout. We just tried to not get in the way of whatever was going to happen."
That's not to say the family never wavered. With statistics telling them they'd likely never see her again, some accepted the possibility that Elizabeth was dead, comforting themselves with their faith that she was in peace.
Even her father, Ed Smart, who dismissed head-shakers and insisted all along she was alive, that he could feel her presence, that prayers around the world were working, suffered momentary lapses.
Six weeks after his daughter Elizabeth disappeared, reeling in shock the day after the sudden death of the best possible suspect investigators had in her kidnapping, he spoke of Elizabeth in the past tense.
"One of the things that gives me peace is that she was a very righteous, sweet girl," he said. Taking a breath, he corrected himself. "I still feel she's here."
On Thursday, Ed Smart said his family "helped and stood by to the point of being crazy."
That was an understatement for Tom Smart and his four other siblings.
"The other five of us have been like five Ahabs going after five whales, monomaniacal, over the edge completely in our search," he said. "I'm a pretty strong person and haven't broken down many times in my life, but I've been pushed over the edge and my poor wife had to see that."
Sustaining them all along has been their Mormon faith and its members' immediate outpouring of love and support.
On June 5, when Elizabeth was taken in the middle of the night from the bed she shared with her younger sister Mary Katherine, the family fasted and prayed all day. Gordon B. Hinckley, prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, called Elizabeth's grandfather Charles Smart.
"He said, 'Charles, we're sorry for your trouble. We remembered you in our prayers in the temple. Is there anything else we can do?"' Smart said that afternoon.
Hinckley's son Richard led the prayer meeting at the Federal Heights wardhouse that night. An estimated 300 people turned out.
The next day, hundreds of Mormon missionaries turned out to help search for Elizabeth along with thousands of other volunteers. Church leaders issued an unusual official statement that expressed concern for Elizabeth, called on her abductor to release her unharmed and "welcomed" church members to help with the search effort and bring comfort to the family.
Now that she's back, family members are determined to keep Elizabeth out of the limelight, to give her time to recover from her ordeal.
East High School spokesman Jason Olsen on Friday said should Elizabeth want to return to school this year, she would be allowed to make up her credits and be a full member of the freshman class.
Whether that will happen is up in the air. "That's one of the things we have to decide," Lois Smart said. For now, she said, "we need to be with Elizabeth."
The family is extending that protective instinct to the family of Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee, the couple accused of kidnapping Elizabeth.
"They were good enough to come forward," said Elizabeth's aunt Angela Smart Dumke. "We know what happens. We're trying to protect the Mitchell family (from) the wolves."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)