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Smart's Blame Tribune Story for Drop in Volunteers

Smart's Blame Tribune Story for Drop in Volunteers

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Elizabeth Smart's family is blaming a story in The Salt Lake Tribune, which included allegations that a screen in her bedroom was cut from the inside the night she was kidnapped, for diverting public attention in the search for her last summer.

The family always refuted claims that the screen was cut from the inside last June when Elizabeth was taken at knifepoint as her family slept. But once it was published eight days after the kidnapping, speculation grew that the family was involved as the girl was held in a canyon not far from her home.

"It was the screen," Tom Smart, Elizabeth's uncle, told The Tribune for a story published Sunday.

Sunday's story was the latest in the fallout from revelations that two Tribune reporters, Michael Vigh and Kevin Cantera, were paid $10,000 each for giving information about the case to the National Enquirer not long after the disappearance. Vigh and Cantera were fired last week, and their editor, James E. Shelledy, resigned under pressure two days later.

The Enquirer's story has been retracted as part of a settlement between the Smarts and the tabloid, and an attorney for the Smarts has accused a host of governmental investigative agencies of leaking confidential and false information to Vigh and Cantera.

That has triggered scrutiny of other stories written by Vigh and Cantera and published in the Tribune.

The screen, as it turned out, was cut from both sides and a drifter couple with no relation to the Smart family has been charged with the kidnapping.

The family blamed the story for a 75 percent drop in volunteer searchers, although news reports indicated turnout was declining even before the article ran. The story, written by the fired reporters, cited anonymous sources.

"Detectives have been unable to explain how the abductor ... could have entered the house through the small window that appeared to be the entry point," the June 13 story said.

Tom Smart said the family tried to refute the story by issuing a statement.

"But it was later passed off as us trying to discredit The Tribune," Smart said.

The Smart attorney, Randy Dryer, said some in information leaked by police and the FBI was misleading, further hindering the investigation last summer.

"It was overwhelming," Smart said of the erroneous leaks. "There were good police officers out there working hard, on the street, full-time. Then there were those who were talking to Kevin and Michael.

"It would be wrong to indict the hundreds of people in law enforcement who have acted with integrity. Just as it would be wrong to indict everybody in the media. The actions of so few should not discount what so many have done."

The Smart family has agreed not to sue Vigh and Cantera, who divulged their law enforcement sources. The family has no agreement with the newspaper, which is investigating what led to last week's embarrassment and reviewing its ethics policies.

"But the Smart family is not interested in suing people," Dryer said. "The Smart family is not interested in having people jailed. The Smart family is interested in getting back to a sense of normalcy and privacy, and trying to get through the balance of this ordeal."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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