Volunteer searchers reflect on Smart kidnapping

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Elizabeth Smart's time on the witness stand this week in the trial of the man accused of kidnapping her marks another key milestone in her story. Many are following it closely, including those who volunteered to help find her years ago.

"We have some breaking news at this hour," then-KSL 5 anchor Kim Johnson told the public during a June 5, 2002 news broadcast. "Salt Lake Police are on the scene of a possible kidnapping. They've confirmed that."

Immediately, a tidal wave of friends, neighbors, even complete strangers turned up to help out. They searched near and far around the state.

"We searched and searched. We weren't going to stop until we found her," volunteer Susie Elmore said.

"I just got up and started looking with everybody else," volunteer Michael Freed said. "It was a great thing, really. I was proud of my home state. Everybody stepped up."

For many, the connection became personal.

"You know, I think we can all, particularly parents, can put themselves in the Smarts' shoes" volunteer Ted Wilson said.

That connection deepened when the story took its climatic turn.

"I'm here to celebrate. I'm here to thank everyone, and I'm just so very grateful," Ed Smart told members of the media on March 12, 2003, just after his daughter was found.

Fast forward 2010: Now 23, Elizabeth Smart enters court to describe the most painful details with poise and composure. Volunteers from the 2002-2003 search recall all the twists and turns and again say they're uplifted.

"I think she's a symbol of bravery and courage, and I think she's a symbol of somebody who will overcome the worst odds," said volunteer Missy Larsen.

"[She's an] incredible model -- incredible model not just for a young woman, but for children, for adults, anyone that has gone through very bad things in their lives, that you can go forward in life," Elmore said.

"Hope works. It's a good thing," Freed said. "I mean, where would we be without hope?"

Elizabeth Smart wrapped up her testimony Wednesday. The trial has recessed for the Veterans Day holiday and will continue Monday.

E-mail: jdaley@ksl.com

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