Harrowing Year for Smarts

Harrowing Year for Smarts

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- In a single harrowing year, Ed Smart lost his daughter Elizabeth, found her against all odds, helped push the Amber Alert child protection act through Congress and worked relentlessly to raise public awareness of missing children.

June 5 marks the one-year anniversary of the 14-year-old girl's kidnapping from her bed at knifepoint, an event that set off a national search and a global media frenzy.

Elizabeth, now 15, is slowly reclaiming her life -- spending a lot of time with her family and friends, going to church and shopping, thinking about where she wants to go to high school in the fall.

"She's doing great. We're getting back to normal," her father said.

At the same time, he said, "life will never be the same. I just hope that people realize that every day, these kidnappings go on."

Elizabeth, now 15, stood last month with her father and her mother, Lois Smart, in the White House Rose Garden. There, President Bush signed into law a sweeping bill that encourages states to set up Amber Alert systems to find abducted children through matching grants for equipment and training.

The bill-signing was a triumph for the Smarts and other families of missing children, including Donna Norris, mother of its namesake, 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, abducted and slain in 1996 in Arlington, Texas.

During the months of congressional debate, Ed Smart blasted Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., accusing him of holding up the Amber Alert because he wanted to pass his own version of the bill for political reasons.

Smart has changed his mind, and now commends the bill's stiff federal penalties and new tools for prosecutors to fight child pornography.

"As mad as I got with Sensenbrenner ... I have to take my hat off to him, and thank him for being so persistent," Smart said.

Seven hours after Elizabeth was reported missing, Salt Lake City police sent out a Rachael Alert, Utah's version of the Amber Alert.

But Elizabeth was nowhere to be found.

For the next nine months, her family pleaded for her return, doing what they could to keep her name and face in the news, not knowing her abductors were camping with her in the foothills above the Smart home.

Prosecutors say Brian David Mitchell, a drifter and self-styled prophet, and his wife, Wanda Barzee, held Elizabeth against her will at the campsite until Oct. 8. They then took her to California, where they stayed until March 5, according to court documents.

On March 12, two couples within minutes of each other spotted Elizabeth in a Salt Lake City suburb with the transient couple.

Mitchell, 49, and Barzee, 57, have been charged with burglary, kidnapping and sexual assault. They are both being held on $10 million bond and have been ordered to undergo mental health evaluations. Their trials are expected in the fall. While June 5 remains a permanent shock to the Smart family, "the landmark date for us, of course, is March 12," said Elizabeth's uncle Tom Smart.

"The day she came home ... I have heard so many stories from (people) around the world about where they were when they heard it," he said. "It was unbelievable."

Elizabeth's kidnapping, the February 2002 kidnap-murder in San Diego of 7-year-old Danielle Van Dam and 7-year-old Alexis Patterson's May 2002 disappearance in Milwaukee all have raised public consciousness of child abductions, said Ben Ermini, an official with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Ermini credits the Amber Alert with saving the lives of Jacqueline Marris, 17, and Tamara Brooks, 16. They were abducted at gunpoint in August and rescued 12 hours later 100 miles away after Kern County, Calif., sheriff's deputies closed in on the suspect's stolen car and shot him to death.

It was the first time California used the alert now deployed in 43 states.

"That was a case that certainly showed how well the Amber Alert works," Ermini said. "The attention the media gave these cases has really helped parents become more aware that they have to sit down with their kids and give them safety tips."

The National Incident Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children report, released in October by Temple University, found that 797,500 children were missing in 1999, the most recent year such statistics have been compiled.

Of those, 58,200 were nonfamily abductions. Just 115 involved what the study called "stereotypical" kidnappings, that is, abductions by strangers or slight acquaintances where the child is transported 50 miles or more, kept overnight, held for ransom or killed.

While parents of young children are anxious about the dangers of kidnapping, the report says 81 percent of nonfamily abduction victims were 12 or older, and most were girls. Half of the 115 stereotypical kidnap victims were sexually assaulted; 40 percent were killed; and four weren't recovered.

An Amber Alert was issued in Utah on May 26 after a 19-month-old girl was taken by her grandmother from Salt Lake County to Idaho Falls, Idaho. There, police said, the grandmother -- a 38-year-old described as a paranoid schizophrenic -- jumped into the Snake River in a murder-suicide attempt.

The woman, Kelley Lodmell, was charged with first-degree murder, and divers kept up efforts to find Acacia Patience Bishop late into the week.

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

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