SALT LAKE CITY — Like many others, Utahna Sorenson said she was surprised when she learned Wanda Barzee would be released from prison, earlier than expected.
“I wasn’t happy from day one when all that stuff started,” Sorenson said.
Now, she has an even bigger concern as Barzee is one of her newest neighbors, living just a few blocks away from the home where Sorenson lives with several family members, including two young granddaughters.
“That’s pretty close,” Sorenson said. “Knowing that someone like that is that close to my kids and my grandkids — I’m not comfortable with it at all.”
Barzee’s new residence, near 900 South and Navajo Street, is roughly a 7-minute walk from Parkview Elementary School in Salt Lake City, something that has drawn concern from several people, including Elizabeth Smart.
“Every possible caution and protection should be taken when it comes to protecting our children,” Smart said in a statement to NBC News. “Whether a person is deemed a current threat or if they have a history of child abuse, neglect, sexual violence, etc., prudent measures should be taken, including housing them as far away as possible from schools, families and community centers.”
Ellis Colvin, a mother to four young children, said she remembers going to elementary school with Smart when she disappeared. Colvin now lives down the street from Parkview Elementary.
“It’s hard as a community to feel like you’re safe, and then you’re not all of a sudden,” Colvin said. “And now that’s kind of what I’m feeling here.”
Some neighbors, who live much closer to Barzee’s new halfway house, were not as concerned. Jay Sampson said he’s lived right across the street from the home for a few years.
“They check on them on a pretty regular basis, everyone that’s over there right now,” Sampson said. “I mean, the whole point of this is rehabilitation, so if they don’t get her out in the world somewhere, then it’s never going to happen.”
Some nearby parents like Colvin, however, say they don’t have the luxury of being that optimistic.
“I don’t know how you go from doing all kinds of things like that, and ever coming back,” Colvin said. “When you have young children, you can’t leave that to a guess. It can’t be a guessing game.”