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Captors Built Steady Influence Over Elizabeth

Captors Built Steady Influence Over Elizabeth

Posted - Mar. 13, 2003 at 6:32 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Elizabeth Smart's captors built a steady influence over the teen-ager during her nine months of captivity that may have kept her from escaping or crying out for help, police said Thursday.

Frightened at first by her abduction at knifepoint, Elizabeth was forced to depend on Brian Mitchell and Wanda Barzee over the following months. On the day she was discovered by police, the girl vehemently denied her identity when asked if she was Elizabeth Smart. She told officers the man and woman she was with were her parents.

"There is clearly a psychological impact that occurred at some point," Dinse said. "There is no question that she was psychologically affected."

Salt Lake police briefly outlined Elizabeth's movements over the last nine months, saying she spent her first two months held against her will in the foothills behind her parents' house. In October, the three rode a bus to San Diego, and the group returned to the Salt Lake area on the day of their capture.

For two months after Elizabeth Smart vanished from her bedroom in the middle of the night, she was camped in a canyon behind her home, achingly close to her anguished family, and at one point even heard her uncle calling out her name.

On Thursday, family and friends of the 15-year-old girl focused not on what could have been, but on the astounding event many of them are calling a miracle: Elizabeth, taken from her bed at knifepoint as she slept nine months ago, was home again, playing the harp and watching her favorite movie, "The Trouble with Angels," with her family.

"Elizabeth is happy, she is well, and we are so happy to have her back in our arms," said her beaming father, Ed Smart.

Amid the joyful reunion was a growing list of questions: What about the shaggy-haired drifter accused of kidnapping the girl? Why didn't police find him sooner? Above all, what happened to Elizabeth during the long span since she vanished last June?

Dressed in a wig, veil and sunglasses, Elizabeth Smart told Sandy police officers who picked her up along with Mitchell and his wife, Barzee, that her name was "Augustine" and that Mitchell and Barzee were her parents.

Police questioned her aggressively about her identity, said Officer Bill O'Neal. She became agitated when officers asked her to remove her wig and sunglasses, and said she recently had eye surgery.

"We took her aside ... she kind of just blurted out, `I know who you think I am. You guys think I'm that Elizabeth Smart girl who ran away,"' O'Neal said.

"Her heart was beating so hard you could see it through her chest. She knew that we knew, or, that she needed some kind of help there."

The group was taken to the Sandy police station in handcuffs and still wearing their wigs.

Sandy police said Elizabeth never asked about her family.

Ed Smart said he had not pressed his daughter for details of her captivity.

"What is going to come out is going to come out," he said. "I don't have it in me to try and make this harder for her than it is."

Asked how she had changed, he said she had returned home "really a young woman."

Elizabeth was found Wednesday in suburban Sandy when two couples called police after spotting the drifter walking down the street. Mitchell and Barzee were jailed on suspicion of aggravated kidnapping.

For much of the time she was gone, it now appears Elizabeth was hiding in plain sight, sometimes swathed in robes and veils.

The daughter of a faithful and affluent Mormon family apparently camped behind her home in Dry Creek Canyon, a popular hiking area searched many times last summer. Hours after she vanished, she heard an uncle, David Francom, calling her.

Another uncle, Tom Smart, said Elizabeth wasn't able to respond. "I don't know why," he said.

Elizabeth may also have spent time in an apartment a block from a Salt Lake City police station, and attended a party in the company of her apparent abductors. Authorities also say people recently spotted Mitchell walking the aisles of a San Diego-area grocery store in the company of two females.

Daniel Trotta, who says he unknowingly sheltered Elizabeth and the drifter couple in a Salt Lake City apartment for several days last fall, claims the girl never expressed fear and had opportunities to escape or at least call police.

Police have refused to confirm Trotta's account. A Smart family spokesman said Elizabeth never had a chance to slip away because she was always with Mitchell and Barzee.

Mitchell, a 49-year-old panhandler and self-proclaimed prophet for the homeless, was often seen in downtown Salt Lake City and sometimes lived in a tepee in the foothills above the city.

Police were besieged with thousands of tips and calls in the days after Elizabeth's disappearance. They focused much of their investigation on handyman Richard Ricci, 48, hired by the Smarts to help remodel their home.

Authorities said Ricci was a promising lead -- he had an extensive criminal record and ultimately admitted stealing jewelry and other items from the Smarts. But Ricci steadfastly denied any involvement in Elizabeth's disappearance. He was in jail for a parole violation when he died last August after suffering a brain hemorrhage.

As the case grew cold, the Smart family grew frustrated at the lack of progress.

Their 10-year-old daughter, Mary Katherine, had offered a promising lead in mid-October. She told her parents another handyman who had worked at the house may have been the man she saw in the bedroom that night -- Mitchell, the man now held in Elizabeth's disappearance.

On Thursday, Smart sounded forgiving of police. He had previously accused them of acting slowly in pursuing Mitchell and concentrating too much on Ricci. Now, he said, all that matters is Elizabeth's safe return.

"I believe that some mistakes have been made," he said. "But we learn by our mistakes and we move forward. I believe that they tried to do their best."

Smart acknowledged making one mistake himself -- hiring Mitchell to work on his house in November 2001.

"When I was up there on the roof with him, I never could have guessed," Smart said. "He was so soft-spoken; he was so quiet. I never would have guessed that such an animal would have existed behind such a person."

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

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