SANTEE, Calif. (AP) -- A man believed to be the transient who allegedly abducted a Utah teenager was sighted regularly when he shopped at a San Diego County grocery store in recent months, sometimes accompanied by two women, witnesses and police told The Associated Press.
"When I saw the picture on TV I was surprised. That's the guy," said Asad Rabban, owner of Wrigley's Supermarket in Lakeside, an unincorporated community just east of here.
He said he saw the man visit the store three to four times a week for about a month around the Christmas holidays. The man was always accompanied by two women, Rabban said, but he couldn't tell if one of them was 15-year-old victim Elizabeth Smart because their faces were always covered.
"They looked funny, the way they were dressed," he said. "All you could see was their eyes. ... They weren't clean."
Authorities found Elizabeth unharmed Wednesday in Sandy, Utah, just miles from her home. Mitchell, who was with her, was taken into custody.
The girl vanished from her bedroom nine months ago.
San Diego County sheriff's Lt. Guy Chambers said other witnesses reported seeing a man who looked like Mitchell shopping alone at the store.
He added that local authorities had given Utah investigators the names of the people they spoke with.
"Mitchell was sighted, by himself, several times in the store," Chambers said.
Some employees said the man sometimes wore a turban when he came to shop. Rabban said he and the women were always clad in dirty white clothes and smelled as though they hadn't bathed.
A Smart family spokesman told reporters in Salt Lake City that the 15-year-old girl also confirmed being in the area at one time during her abduction.
"Elizabeth told her father on being reunited with him that she spent some of the time she was abducted in San Diego," family spokesman Chris Thomas said.
She told her family she never had a chance to escape. "She said there was no way, she had two people with her at all times," Thomas said.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)